Practiced since A.D. 900, Japanese gardening is meant to bring calmness and focus to a landscape. Designed around six aesthetic principles that harness the beauty and power of nature, Zen gardens are meant to help those who wander through them forget the hectic world outside.
Zen spread throughout Japan with the rise of the samurai warrior class. As the new religion spread, so did temples and gardens dedicated to it.
The purpose of a Zen garden is to help quiet and focus your mind. Ponds in a Zen garden, for example, represent negative space, or the "nothingness" that is essential to Zen meditation. In addition, the sound of dripping water is meant to remind you to exist in the moment with each drip.
Zen gardens are designed around six aesthetic principles. Theses principles are: fukinsei, or asymmetry; kanso, or simplicity; koko, or venerability; yugen, or subtlety and mystery; datsoku, or otherworldliness; and seijanku, or stillness.
Stones, water, plants, bridges, and ornaments are essential elements of Zen gardens. Each element has symbolic meaning. Pine trees, for example, represent strength and patience, as enlightenment can only be gained by one who possesses these qualities. Placing a frog figurine in the garden represents sudden realization, symbolized by a frog jumping into a quiet pond.
Zen in Miniature
Today, faced with limited space and resources, some people create miniature Japanese gardens. Some are small enough to fit on a desktop, while others are built as part of a room or even a rooftop.