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Zen Gardens Awards

Zen gardens bring peace to the home
Whether inside or outdoors, these Japanese rockscapes are designed to inspire

By Stephanie David, Postmedia News

Zen Buddhism has inspired urban living. Calm, meditative aspects of this practice have spilled over into homes, inspiring the implementation of Zen gardens and transforming both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Yoshihiro Kawasaki operates Zen Gardens with his wife Dorothy, designing and implementing this style of garden in the Vancouver region. The style is a design concept, he explains, but "the root is symbolic and spiritual."

Zen gardens are Japanese rock gardens that are believed to inspire a feeling of tranquillity while invoking a meditative environment through a dry landscape based on natural elements.

This concept has been adapted and, depending on the environment, can include structures, plants and neatly pruned trees, typical of Japanese gardens. Yoshihiro largely operates outdoors.

In the overall design, the few chosen elements might include a water basin, rocks, plants and small stones or pea gravel, Yoshihiro explains.

"Whether you choose a natural, organic look or a contemporary Zen design, make the lines clean and simple."

Most of the Kawasakis' business focuses on the outdoors, but Yoshihiro also provides tips on adding an indoor Zen garden to your home.

"An indoor Zen garden is a meditative or contemplative garden, a sanctuary from the stress of daily life," he says. "Large scale or small scale, the garden space should give people a calming effect."

Zen gardens come in all shapes and sizes and customizing your garden to suit your living space can make it a very personable addition to your home when it is complete. They can be built by utilizing idle space, such as in the living room, bedroom or on the patio. Zen gardens can even be created inside an open cabinet.

Dorothy says adding plants gives life to any indoor setting, although a Zen garden means "there are no bright flowers. The palette is restricted so that the senses are soothed rather than stimulated.

"Yoshi uses dry bamboo to bring height into the composition, or for flooring decoration," Dorothy says.

She also advises not to shy away from emptiness, because these "areas of empty space are left to rest the eye and accent the composition."

When building a Zen garden, the first step is to create a frame for the area, which is usually made out of wood. There needs to be a bottom attached to the frame. White sand, usually obtained at a gardening or hobby shop, is used to fill the frame to the top, ensuring at least two inches (five cm) deep.

Zen gardens usually feature stones and natural substances, all with rounded edges. Place objects with rounded edges on the sand such as large rocks, stones or weathered pieces of wood. Design decisions should be based on achieving an open and calming effect.

Stones are usually placed with their best sides showing. Once the objects are in place, use a rake or similar garden tool to swirl the sand in curving patterns. It's only necessary to rake the top inch (2.5 cm) of sand, which can symbolize ocean waves. Each garden is different, although most use rock groupings. Typically, there is no water present, but instead gravel or sand is used to symbolize oceans, lakes and rivers. Rocks are also used to symbolize objects, such as mountains and islands.

Many people add the sound of water, as well as some carefully selected plants. It is also possible to add and remove objects from the garden, changing it with the seasons.

If installing a Zen garden outdoors, it's a good idea to use a plastic weed barrier while constructing the frame. Again, fill the garden to the top with white sand and rake the sand into curving patterns. Stone arrangements and white sand can transform an unused area into a relaxing environment.

Moss and carefully pruned trees can add to this effect, and trees can be sculpted as they grow. The freedom of space outdoors can bring about elaborate gardens with buildings, paths and plants.

A garden can quickly become a work of art.

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