The words Zen Garden usually make you picture a garden with a dry raked gravel landscape with carefully placed rocks. The appeal of Zen gardens is that they are somewhere you can escape from the hustle and bustle of the noisy world into a quiet and silent one where you can relax without distractions.
Although you may have heard that Zen priests created the style of landscape that is often a dry rocks and gravel design, supposed to provide a deep understanding of the concept of Zen, there are others that consider this type of garden to have been created in the twentieth century in the west and that it has no relation to traditional Japanese gardens. They say the dry garden landscape style can be seen and associated with buildings other than the Zen temples.
You may have a view on this or you may not. Either way, you have to admit there is an appeal to the dry landscape and the style called a Zen garden. The arrangements of rocks to represent islands or mountains, and gravel raked to look like water flowing around those mountains and islands, has a simplicity but can still be portrayed beautifully and with meaning, or badly and just look like someone dumped gravel and rocks with no thought to arrangement or meaning.
Zen gardens are not always made up of just gravel and stones, mosses and plants such as bamboo and Black Pine trees are often included along with water features, lanterns, and bridges.
To make a Zen garden of your own you need to have a selection of stones or rocks that you find interesting or appealing in their shape. It can take a while to choose and collect rocks and gravel suitable for your creation but it is worth taking your time over it.
The main purpose of your garden is that it pleases you, that you can use it for a place where you can relax and escape the noise outside of your garden, and that you can spend time maintaining it as part of the overall enjoyment you get from your creation.
Zen gardening design and construction, planting, and cultivation, is part of what makes a Zen garden and the continuous maintenance of your design and creation is all part of the way you enjoy it.
Using the Ryoanji Temple garden as an example, there was an article by Gert van Tonder and Michael Lyons in Nature that analysed the shape of this rock garden through the generation of a model.
Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto, includes a famous Zen garden that reportedly has a calming effect on the huge number of visitors to the temple every year.
This rectangular garden has 15 rocks, or stones, of various sizes composed into groups as follows: one 5 stone group, two 3 stone groups and two 2 stone groups.
These rocks/stones are within a sea of white gravel, meticulously raked daily by monks of the temple. Apart from an amount of moss surrounding the stones there is no other vegetation within the garden.
The model was used in the study to show how it was structured in alignment with the architecture of the temple and that the preferred point to view the garden, centre of the hall, provided a sight line that subconsciously gave the garden the natural shape of a tree and branches.
I guess you would have to go there and view it from that perspective to decide if this conclusion is feasible and that if it would truly be the cause of the calm felt by the majority of visitors.
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