Zen rock gardens: just rake and groove


Have you planted your garden yet? What garden? The container garden I taught you how to plant in a previous column. What — you haven’t even started it yet? I know, you’re busy. You don’t have time to water your plants and you absolutely hate weeding.

Don’t worry. Just because you can’t take care of plants doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden. Yes, that’s right, thanks to Zen, you can have a rock garden. And you can even have it inside if you want.

Today, I’ll teach you how to make a small Japanese “karesansui” rock garden. You can see a “dry” garden of this type at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto. You’ll find that with even just a small space, you’ll have plenty of room for mountains, islands and water inside your garden. This is because much of the rock garden is left to the imagination. Brilliant, eh? It’s kind of like pretending you’re Monet.

Here are the tools you’ll need to create your masterpiece.

1) Small stones: You’ll need lots of stones. And you’ll have to pay for them, because there are probably not enough wild rocks in your neighborhood. You’ll need small white ones like gravel, about 3 cm in diameter, which can be bought by the bagful. Lay these on the bottom of the garden. They represent water.

2) More rocks — big ones: You’ll need two or three big rocks. You should have one upright rock, and one or two horizontal rocks that lie on their side and are flat on top. These rocks give your garden depth and width. Your rocks should look craggy, not smoothed over like the ones in a stream. These rocks represent mountains or islands. Take your pick.

The big rocks should be buried deep enough to give them a look of permanence, as if they have been there for a long time. Set one-third to one-half of the rock in the ground. It should not look as if you just read a newspaper column, decided to have a rock garden and placed the rocks there the same day.

It turns out that rocks prefer to hang out with their own kind, so use only rocks of the same kind and color. Space and balance are extremely important. If rocks are put too close to each other, relations could get a bit rocky. Space rocks apart from each other, yet in a unified group. Don’t be surprised if all your rocks do is sit there looking at each other stone-faced. This is good. They should be exuding peace and tranquillity.

3) A Rake: Lastly, rake the small stones into patterns around the big rocks. The patterns left by the rake represent waves in the water. Avoid tsunamis, though, or people will think you have rocks in your head. Do nothing that might upset the balance of the garden.

Some people pipe music into their gardens. No, not rock ‘n’ roll, but slow strumming koto music. I’m not sure why people do this, though, since everyone should know that rocks are stone deaf.

Maintenance of your rock garden is easy and involves just giving it a passing glance as you leave the house for work. But the real beauty of the rock garden is that it is easy to take with you. I especially enjoy mine on the train. Just close your eyes and imagine your garden. Hold that picture. You will find peace. You are Monet.

You’ll also find you can take solace in this image the next time you find yourself between a rock and a hard place. If you still haven’t made your garden by then, however, I suggest you head to the nearest beer garden instead.