Rock My World-A Zen Garden

June 18, 2009 004 (2) Gardens change over time, as do gardeners. The quest for less maintenance if not zero maintenance becomes a mantra as age is a loudspeaker in ones mind looping a message to think about the future of garden chores as abilities slide into oblivion. June 27, 2009 005 (2) There is a spot in the Fairegarden that had become a weed haven. Behind the knot garden at the top of the property, one of the only level spots that exists here, there is a space between the boxwood hedge that rings the quadrants and the split rail fence that helps to hide the chain link fence. Curly willow trees started as cuttings taken from a tree in our gardens in Texas had grown quickly to shade the area while sucking up the scant moisture during the last two drought years. Only one tree peony out of four planted survived in this inhospitable place. Rhododendrons were planted and died, large pots of lavender cracked with the frost and the lavender inside died, heucheras spread as a ground cover have all but disappeared. A row of Osmanthus fragrans was planted to replace the too messy zebra grass, Miscathus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ behind the rails. One grass was left at the end in a flash of sympathy for the floppy cultivar. The willows were pollarded with a chainsaw.While traveling recently to Nashville and Chicago, Japanese Zen Gardens grabbed our imagination with swirling ideas of bringing something similar to life back in southeast Tennessee. The first step was to move the few desirable plants from the bed and clear cut the weeds. Scrap lumber from the garage helped show the size and shape to come. June 27, 2009 026 (2) A generous visitor, Christopher from Outside Clyde, had brought two large rocks from his mountain in North Carolina. They were the perfect addition to the Japanese style plot, suggesting a boat and sail. The stones were partially buried after being lifted and toted effortlessly up the hill by The Financier. Several layers of newspaper were laid over the smoothed soil as a weed preventative. Most weeds are from air born seeds but the clover and other unwanteds hiding under the soil should be smothered by the papers. June 27, 2009 030 (2) Research was done about the meanings of the elements of the zen garden. A good site with photos and explanation was found here. Ten bags of pea gravel carried up by the faithful Financier filled the five foot by four foot space to a level of three inches. Cedar sideboards with concrete edgers in front complete the rectangle with a treated two by six board at the back to help hold the slope. A dwarf mugo pine that will be pruned to an interesting shape as it grows was planted behind with the four heucheras rescued from the area. Scotch moss, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’ is the groundcover under the pine. Black mondo, Ophiopogon planiscapus will fill in to form a border around the front and sides. June 27, 2009 034 (2) On to the fun part, the raking of the gravel to suggest water movement with curves and circles. After looking online for appropriate rakes, it was remembered that such a tool hangs on our wall already with the homemade brooms and other odd paraphernalia. June 27, 2009 039 (2) During the extensive research it was learned that the raking of the zen gardens is not something to be taken lightly. Training can take ten years. Scoffs were uttered as the rake was carried up the steps of the steep slope. How hard can it be to rake a bunch of waves? Above is the first attempt at raking proving that ten years of training is not nearly long enough for some overconfident types of zen gardeners. A humbling experience, and not surprisingly part of the art of zen. June 27, 2009 048 (2) Stepping back with new respect for the raking technique seen in public gardens, we looked in the nearby shed for another tool. The gravel base of the small space was oh so carefully shaped and formed with a bamboo stake. Much time and diligence was required to form rivulets that suggested waves of water caressing the stone boat and sail. If the raker had not been so tired and hot from the construction process, the proper mind set would have been easier to achieve. As it was, the pulling of the stick through the gravel made a pleasing sound, soothing like the surf lapping the shore at the beach. June 27, 2009 047 (2) The beauty and intricacy of each pebble began to stir our thoughts. The colors, the shapes, the sizes, how they must have been formed over time crept into our mind as the bamboo went back and forth to form ripples in the gravel. June 27, 2009 040 (3) On the opposite side of the space between the boxwood and the split rail a bench was placed for contemplative meditation. A newly planted pot of a gold Monterey Cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa surrounded by golden club moss, Selaginella kraussiana in hopes of becoming a Bonsai sits on the seat. A basin to cleanse our thoughts and hands before beginning the serenity search was added. June 27, 2009 023 (3) This hand carved granite koi bowl was picked up on recent travels to upper east Tennessee to visit friends and family. A lantern of the same material was purchased at the same time and has found a home near the pond. A bamboo ladle is still needed, resting on two bamboo sticks bound by black cord across the basin, according to research done. June 27, 2009 049 (4) An ever so small and miniscule splinter in the door to enlightenment has been opened thanks to the new zen garden. There is much to learn.
The first photo is a late blooming Papaver somniferum.
Yes, the title alludes to the recent passing of a famous singer/dancer. For the record, my favorite video was Black Or White. R.I.P.

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28 Responses to Rock My World-A Zen Garden

  1. Gail says:

    Frances, Your Zen garden is wonderful! I love it~~The bowl you described to me is even better seeing the photo and I know that before long you will have the bamboo ladle. (Where is the lantern, did I miss where it’s going?) I love the story of ten years training for gravel raking! I wonder who does the raking at Cheekwood or CBG? Change is good, yes? gail

    Hi Gail, thanks. The lantern is by the pond, but I am not sure about that being the best placement just yet. Do you know if that was sand or gravel at those public gardens? Christopher reminded me that using sand would be an advertisement to the stray cats around for a free litter box, and the squirrels may yet think this the perfect spot to plant those walnuts from the nearby tree. A nice bamboo grid may be put together for fall to hinder those digging devils. Loved your changing the garden post , BTW. πŸ™‚

  2. Frances, I just love the new Zen garden. I feel more relaxed just reading about it. I can picture you sitting there relaxing after a hard day in the garden. Aahhhhh.

    Hi Lisa, thanks, so glad you are feeling relaxed. It is hard for me to just sit, so it will be a learning curve to discover the joys of quiet contemplation. πŸ™‚

  3. Janet says:

    Good morning Frances, I wondered what plans you had for the rocks you just received. This is really neat. I think you did very well on the ripples of stone around your rocks…you are a quick study! I love the Koi basin. My friend who owns the bird store in town has that in his shop…..$$$$. Perfect addition to your Zen Garden area.

    Hi Janet, thanks. There will be many redos of the swirling gravel, that was the most fun of the whole process. The sound of the stick running through the gravel slowly had a hypnotic quality to it. The koi basin was a little pricey, but since I also bought the lantern there was some negotiation and a discount given. πŸ™‚

  4. Frances, I like your new zen garden. I have one, too, but it is virtual, on my iPhone. It is so easy to move the virtual rocks and rake and smooth out the virtual sand, over and over again.

    Hi Carol, thanks. I saw that online about the virtual zen garden when doing the research for this garden. Sounds really cool. Do you use it often?

  5. I like the idea of using a place in new ways which didn’t work in other ways. As I age, I begin to understand the principles of Zen gardening, and I loved your explanation of how hard the gravel was to rake. Christopher brought you two very nice presents.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, thanks. I thought the raking would be the easiest part, instead it was the most challenging, but I think that is the idea. This is not meant to be a slam dunk, more of a slow trickle. Christopher’s rock choices were perfect.

  6. Kathy Stilwell says:

    This is just lovely and as always, very interesting. Your zen garden makes me want to meditate!

    Thanks, Kathy. There are lots of possibilites with this style of garden. I have only just begun. πŸ™‚

  7. ourfriendben says:

    Good job, Frances, and great idea re: using bamboo stake! The old Zen masters would be smiling at you for turning something plain and at hand into a gardening aid. Zen roiginally was all about simplicity and utility!

    Oh thanks, OFB. I wasn’t sure if that sort of thing was allowed since it wasn’t a rake but at least was bamboo. Simplicity and utility sound like the kind of guiding principles that will help us move to the next phase of our lives, both in the garden and in the home. πŸ™‚

  8. Sweet! I saw the before, so I know how nice of an upgrade this is and a lot of work to have your zen vision come to fruition.

    So glad you approve, Christopher. The rocks you brought are so perfect. Doing the research and finding that a boat with a sail were common subjects, it was an epiphany. The way you placed the rocks on the path already looked just like that, so we kept the same idea in the new space. Just clearing the weeds away was an upgrade. Ideas will sprout and grow as we spend time in quiet contemplation on the bench.

  9. What a wonderful and artistic way to garden, Frances! I enjoyed learning about the ‘birth’ of your zen garden! It looks beautiful, and a relaxing place to visit! When it rains, you’ll get to go back and rake the rocks again and again! The bowl will be kept full that way, too;-)

    Hi Jan, thanks. The thought of rain is a pleasant one, for we are in the drought period once again here. Reworking the waves will be an enjoyable task, for the sound and movement of the bamboo stake were so relaxing. πŸ™‚

  10. mothernaturesgarden says:

    Excellent, Frances. Everyone needs a spot of Zen before returning to the chaos of this world.

    Thanks, Donna. I couldn’t agree more. πŸ™‚

  11. Lola says:

    Much accomplished for many times of contemplation. We all need a place for meditation.

    Thanks, Lola. You are so right.

  12. Siria says:

    Hello Frances! I love your new Zen garden. You are so creative and certainly a quick study in the raking process! The rocks Christopher brought will always add that extra tranquility to the “meditator” as the tranquility and beauty of his mountaintop will alway be reminded with their presence.

    Hi Siria, thanks. My raking was sad, I did better with the bamboo stake in such a small space and got into the rhythm of the movement and sound of the gravel too. The fact that these rocks are from Christopher and his mountain adds greatly to the zen. πŸ™‚

  13. Sunita says:

    I love your zen garden project, Frances. And I love the way you’ve written about it. I wish I could have one in my garden too but I have a few dogs who have anything but zen on their minds! πŸ˜›
    Still its nice to dream about it…
    About the musician, I think he was responsible for introducing America to remote villages in every corner of India. We do love a good song’n dance and his performances always transcended that.

    Thanks Sunita. You are the first to comment on the musician. The media here is bombarding us with clips of videos and I am enjoying that immensely after the initial shock at their glee in his death. A good song ‘n dance is a perfect way to put it too. As for the animals with non zen thoughts about this space, we are waiting for such a thing to happen here. A plan for a bamboo grid is being formed to cover the space when not being used for meditation, if needed. πŸ™‚

  14. Kathleen says:

    What a great project Frances. You have a little of everything in your garden, that’s for sure. I’ve admired Japanese gardens for a long time but have no idea what it would take to create them. Thanks for the insight your project provided. One of my friends has a tiny zen garden on her desk at work. She says it’s very therapeutic to rake the stones into patterns when she’s stressed. Maybe yours will be that for you too? How are you at taking/making time for contemplation/meditation?? I would have the best of intentions but I have trouble sitting still!

    Hi Kathleen, thanks. You have summed up my garden well, a little of everything. Oh to have one uniform style, but I am attracted to so many things and want to try them all. I did enjoy the wave making with the bamboo stake in the pea gravel, but just sitting still is not something I am very good at either. πŸ™‚

  15. easygardener says:

    What a brilliant idea – creating a wonderful garden and making use of a difficult area. Bonus points there. Perhaps there are short courses on gravel raking! I hope no wildlife interferes with your carefully created waves πŸ™‚

    Thanks so much EG. The gravel raking was my favorite part. A grid of some kind might have to be made before the nuts form on the walnut tree just a few feet from the new area. I can imagine the squirrels thinking this a walnut graveyard and those newspapers would not be much of a deterrent under the gravel. πŸ™‚

  16. Pam/Digging says:

    What a great idea, Frances. Oh, you are so speedy on those garden projects. I need you to come finish my stock-tank pond for me. πŸ˜‰

    Thanks, Pam. I like to see projects through to completion before moving on to the next one. We could get that stock tank pond going in no time! πŸ™‚

  17. Crafty Gardener says:

    I would love to sit by the quiet zen garden after a busy day. I’m looking for more maintenance free ideas for the garden. I have scaled back on one garden in a very sunny location … can’t keep up with the weeds and grass overtaking and the rock hard soil after being baked in the sun. I’m spreading out to shaded corners of the garden with smaller ideas πŸ™‚

    Hi Crafty, thanks for stopping by. Working in the shady areas is a brilliant idea. This time of year it is just not healthy to be in the sun. Slowly weeding the moss garden in cool shade is a perfect summertime garden chore. A nice breeze would be a bonus. πŸ™‚

  18. Joanne says:

    An interesting post and another dimension to your gardening. Love the poppy though.

    Hi Joanne, thanks. We are multi dimensional here. πŸ™‚

  19. Frances,

    Your Zen garden looks great! I look forward to following your reports on the space. We have sand in our horseshoe pits and haven’t had a problem with cats visiting, but I love your use of pea gravel. It has more texture.


    Hi Cameron, thanks. I am liking the look of the pea gravel and believe it will hold the swirls better than the sand and maybe not be attractive to the squirrels either. A horseshoe pit sounds so fun! πŸ™‚

  20. Rose says:

    Frances, this is a great addition to your garden, and I think you’ve found the perfect spot for it. I’m sure the Financier would also enjoy sitting here and quietly meditating after hauling all that gravel up the slope:) Ironically, I just visited a Japanese garden yesterday with Beckie; they do evoke such a feeling of serenity. I have found that with age comes, if not wisdom, at least a recognition of our limitations.

    Hi Rose, you are so very astute, as always. That was quite the workout for The Financier. Just walking up to the top of the garden twelve times is a thorough exercize experience, carrying forty plus pound bags and who knows what the large rocks weighed was something I would not have been able to do at all. How fun to see that style garden with good friend Beckie, hope you both obtained wisdom and serenity. πŸ™‚

  21. Catherine says:

    I love this! It turned out so nice. I would’ve never put the rocks together and thought of a boat with a sail, but definitely see it after you explain it. My mind just doesn’t work that way.
    The koi bowl is beautiful!

    Hi Catherine, thanks. Christopher set the rocks on the gravel path from the back of his truck just like they ended up in the zen garden. The upright rock looked like a sail even before the research was done. A happy lucky coincidence. He gets all the credit.

  22. Darla says:

    This is very interesting here.

    Thanks, Darla.

  23. commonweeder says:

    I think the wisest gardeners, who have experienced the constant flux in the garden are quite open to the idea of a Zen meditation garden. You have shown us that we don’t need a large temple-sized space. This is just a beautiful spot.

    Hi Pat, thanks. I agree, a quiet non plant kind of place is very welcome and is a nice oasis to the jungle feel. Already I wish it were larger, but it suits the space well. πŸ™‚

  24. Wow, that first paragraph was very Zen-like in and of itself! πŸ˜‰ I do love your Zen garden; an ex-colleague has a minature version of this in his office; I used to go up there and rake patterns in the sand when I was feeling frustrated at work (so, 4-6 times daily–HA!!!!) and it really had an amazing calming effect. I imagine it’s even more powerful in the garden, a sanctuary to begin with.

    Thanks, Monica. A friend once made one of those small zen gardens for her husband, it was almost a joke, but he loved it. This is just a little bit larger and out of doors. Very easy to do and cheap, one of your favorite things! πŸ™‚

  25. That is totally cool! I can imagine it would be very calming to rake the gravel – but only if there wasn’t a cloud of mosquitos circling your head. (I don’t think a zen garden would be advisable in my woodland.) I love the koi bowl too.

    Hi MMD, thanks. Mosquitoes or blazing hot sun are both detrimental to zen.

  26. tina says:

    A perfect spot for your new rocks Frances. Good job on the raking. Love that fish bowl!

    Thanks Tina. It is a big improvement over the weedy patch that was there before. The koi bowl is a fine piece.

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