Zen rock gardens are an important part of Japanese culture and philosophy. As art pieces that inspire meditation and tranquility, they have a long history, and they’re an excellent way to understand some basics of Japanese design.
They can also be a fun way to add an interesting design feature to your yard. While few of us understand enough about the philosophy and design principles of karesansui (dry landscape rock gardens), incorporating them into our own yards can be a great learning opportunity. Here are some basics about zen rock gardens to get you started in your own yard.
Tips for Building Your Rock Garden
A karesansui is essentially a miniature stylized landscape. They’re built using rocks, water features, moss, carefully pruned bushes or trees, along with gravel or sand meticulously arranged to imitate waves or ripples. created using rocks, water features, moss, gravel/sand that’s raked to imitate waves or ripples.
Usually these landscapes are isolated, meant to be viewed from a certain point, as a prompt for meditation and contemplation. They represent moments frozen in time.
Choosing the Stones
Choosing the large feature stones for your garden is the most important part. Rocks should complement each other and create a harmonious whole without being artificially stylized and matching. A healthy variety of rocks whose size and shape balance each other out is the best way to go. There are some basic patterns usually followed in true karesansui. For example, the grain of the stone on the different rocks should be in the same direction. Often, rocks that represent mountain features are jagged igneous varieties. On the other hand, stones that represent seashores and borders are usually smoothed sedimentary rocks, naturally reflecting the environment from which they came.
Certain formations are common in traditional rock gardens. For example, groups of three rocks are often found with one tall vertical stone, one reclining rock, and one flat rock. You may also find one tall rock flanked by two smaller ones, representing the buddha and his two attendants.
Gravel or Sand
Lots of people love this part of a rock garden because it’s a rather active element. Usually, gravel or sand is used to represent blank, open spaces. It can be the waves between islands or the air between people. Often raked into gently curving or circling lines and waves, it needs to be carefully and regularly maintained. For many, though, the act itself of maintaining and raking is meant to meditative and peaceful. Remember, though, that maintenance is harder than it looks.
A simplified western version of Japanese rock gardens may simply consist of rocks and gravel, but ideally, there are many different elements the create the harmonious balance necessary. This might be a water feature, like a pond or waterfall or spring, or even a bordering pool. Moss is also an important element, used to represent land covered in trees. Shaped shrubs can replace stones as anchored features. Although they’re not traditional, benches, statues, and lanterns can all add to the feel of your rock garden.
Reading up on Japanese rock garden and zen philosophy is fascinating. Educate yourself on some of the basic principles and design accordingly.
Some More Important Principles
- Respect blank space. Less is more.
- Keep it natural.
- Try to make your garden a world apart, enclosed and isolated.
- Aim for balance and harmony, more than symmetry and uniformity
Every garden comes with its fair share of pests. After all, who wouldn’t want a piece of that beautiful tomato hanging on your vine? The trouble is, if you’re aiming towards organic gardening in your back yard, controlling these pests can be tricky. You don’t want all of your garden-fresh produce harvested with holes.
Here are some tips for tried-and-true environmentally-friendly natural remedies to discourage pests in your garden.
Maintain a Healthy Garden
As with many things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stopping encroaching pests and weeds early is much easier than solving a problem later. Minimize areas that encourage and breed bugs. That means clearing away dead plants, piles of leaves, and keeping close tabs on all of your garden plants to make sure that they’re always free of small signs of pests. Use clean, dry mulch, instead of piles of moist leaves that could house a host of harmful insects.
Get Predators to Do the Heavy Lifting
There are several animals that naturally prey on the creatures that love munching on your garden. Enlisting their help is a perfect natural way to control the population of harmful species. Certain insects can be released in your garden in order to police the local insect population. You can also attract them to your yard by planting strategically.
Ladybugs can be attracted to your garden by plants like daisies, yarrow, and tansy. They eat aphids, whiteflies, and scale. Lacewings are also big aphid eaters, and they’re attracted by yarrow as well. You can also draw them in with goldenrod or black-eyed susans. Damselbugs can be handy because they eat eggs and larvae of parasitic insects. Note that they might also eat other beneficial insects, though. You can attract them with spearmint and marigold.
But how about the bane of gardeners everywhere… slugs? These creatures are usually too large for beneficial insects to take care of for you, and the way that they hide in the soil can make them hard to track. Many gardeners report physically hand-picking them off of your plants as the most effective way to rid yourself of them. However, there are some predators who can help you here too: fowl. If you have ducks or chickens around, letting them wander your garden now and then will keep your plants free of slugs, snails, and other soft-bodied pests.
A common problem in many Utah neighborhoods is foraging deer. Obviously, these large predators can take out entire patches of your garden at a time. Deer rely heavily on their sense of smell to find appetizing plants, so you can mask the smell of your garden from them by planting fragrant plants that they don’t like to eat around your garden. That means lavender, garlic, and chives. Some people also hang scented soap from a branch in order to keep deer away. Deer also tend to be skittish of unfamiliar sounds and objects. Garden decorations and chimes can be enough to make them wary of your garden area.