In Japanese culture, serene landscapes served as tranquil havens for meditation and spirituality. From ancient times, the Japanese monks knew the unique connection between nature and the human mind. That’s why they invested much time to meticulously design outdoor spaces with the infusion of elements that created harmony and balance.
And in today’s pandemic-led environment, with an unusual level of stress and anxiety, a Zen garden space could be just what you need to find calm and comfort. So, if the lockdowns and travel restrictions have forced you indoors, now is the best time to get those garden gloves and shovel out. Because we’ve got the best Zen garden ideas to convert your backyard into your very own Zen space.
Best Zen garden ideas for your backyard
The ancient Zen garden was purposefully designed with specific elements. And for an urban dweller, replicating that could be a challenge, especially amidst a global health crisis. But there are certain components you could easily integrate into your backyard to infuse calm and tranquility.
Here are some simple and cost-effective elements to transform your garden for a Zen experience.
1. Stones, pebbles, and rocks
Stones are an important part of a traditional Zen garden and have many symbolic representations. A large white stone typically symbolizes an island. Rocks also represented earth and its enduring nature.
And your Zen space can incorporate stones of different sizes, from large rocks to smaller pebbles. You can use them around plants, to line pathways, and even along bridges or as clusters.
2. Sand or fine gravel
Sand is another essential element that’s used to elevate the aesthetics and also for meditative purposes. Raking the sand to create designs of straight linear lines, waves, and circular shapes symbolized different meanings in the ancient days. The wave is the most common of these and represented the waves of the ocean. Slow and deliberate raking is also a powerful meditative practice that helps with concentration.
Fine gravel is often used as an alternative to sand since it’s heavier. This means the raked designs are less likely to be disturbed by the wind. But ensure that you select a lighter, earthy tone such as white, sandy brown, or light gray.
The ancient Zen garden used little or no plants. But greenery has become a popular choice for many modern-day Zen landscaping projects. They can elevate the visual appeal with splashes of color that contrast with the typical earthy tones of a Zen space. Plants will also provide distinct benefits for mental and physical wellbeing.
However, there are specific plant types used in Zen gardens, such as camellia, nandina, azalea, and Japanese maple. Use a few varieties considering their foliage, color, height, and blossoms. They must not overwhelm the overall aesthetics and should instead be in harmony with the other elements.
4. Screen or panel
A screen or panel will help create a fence that separates your Zen space for privacy and seclusion. They are also used as part of the visual elements.
Bamboo plants are typically used for their aesthetic appeal and ease of creating a natural fence-like effect because of their tall, towering appearance. But artificial panels are also common today, with various thatched and weaved designs.
5. Water element
In ancient Japan, water was not part of a traditional Zen garden, which instead used raked sand or gravel to symbolize it. But today, it has become an important element, particularly because of its calming and soothing effects.
There are many ways you can incorporate water. You can choose a small fountain and use it as a centerpiece, create a small pond, or even keep a large bowl of water if space is a challenge.
6. Walking path
A walking path is a wonderful addition to your Zen space. You can use paving stones to create contrast and line it with white stones of different sizes. You can also be creative in how you make it part of the overall design. For example, it can lead to a central element in your garden such as a fountain or a Buddha statue. Or, the pathway can guide you through the garden’s many focal points.
Lighting can help create a beautifully serene Zen space for you to step into during the evenings. You can incorporate it in different contexts — to light up the paths, illuminate trees, or to draw attention to a focal point in the garden. You can also use pagoda lights or even set up small spaces for candles, oil lamps, and tea lights.
A few final tips for that perfect backyard Zen garden
The traditional Zen garden is designed based on simplicity and minimalism and integrates only natural elements. So, try to maintain these principles as much as possible as you transform your backyard to infuse calm and tranquility.
You may decide to convert the entire backyard or choose a small area for your Zen space. But prepare a design before you start putting things together and consider scale and proportions to create balance. Natural and earthy color tones are also important for a calming effect.
And these Zen garden ideas will help transform your backyard into a place of solitude and tranquility. You can use it to unwind, meditate, or even for quiet contemplation and introspection, much needed in times where calm evades you.
(This article first appeared in The Urban Stuff)