A Yen For Zen

No Japanese gardener considers himself the owner or creator, but rather a curator, for his generation.


There is a long view taken with the understanding that one is making choices that may not see fruition for decades, if not centuries. The act of gardening is considered as contemplative and meditative as enjoying it. The most infinite consideration is given to placement of trees, plants and particularly stones and how everything relates to each other, not just from the aspects of the garden, but to the scenery and landscape beyond it and from any vista created to look out onto it from.

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The placement of stones in the most harmonious configuration can take a lifetime of training. Pathways are designed to be storied journeys, often zig zagging in order to impel the walker to stop and consider the view from one standpoint to another. You do not march down a Japanese garden path, you are mindful of each view bestowed for it was created intentionally. Similarly, no true Japanese garden will have a gate that opens directly onto it from outside. A wall will be present to block it that must be navigated around to enter in order to baffle evil spirits.

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Water is a frequent component, added not just to bring a flow of direction to the eye but to create reflection, both visually and mentally. Drum or ‘moon’ bridges not only give the visitor access, but further focal points to view various scenes from another place. It doesn’t hurt that they are also incredible when doubled by water.

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I first fell in love with the art of a Japanese garden when visiting the temples of Kyoto, famous for their ancient and beautiful gardens.

me in kyoto

The most famous of all Zen Gardens is the Ryoan-Ji. To sit and partake of the tranquility it invokes is a true pleasure. The rock placement can be anything an individual wishes it to be; mountains rising from the mist, islands in the sea. Curating the gravel around them, a task of endless maintenance, is an exercise in patience and serenity. It is an exacting task.

ryoan ji kyoto

Many years later I have been lucky enough to enjoy wonderful Japanese gardens in America, notably San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and The Huntington Gardens


in Pasadena, California. They are fine examples. Go check out some for yourselves and be a part of the tranquility. Sayonara!

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