The Zen garden is a garden of tradition, representing a journey of spiritual evolution.
The Zen dry garden was originally designed for silent contemplation by monks and had little plant materials. Traditionally these gardens are walled and feature sand raked into designs to represent flowing water, with larger stones placed to represent mountains. The raking of the sand and stones was an act of worship designed to refresh the monks and keep them awake during their long hours of meditation. The traditional tea garden typically has an entrance, then a meandering path through a symbolic garden, leading to the tea house itself. The tea ceremonies evolved into a stylized ritual to honor Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen.
Underlying all of the types of Japanese gardens, specifically the tea garden, is the idea of “journey” which we symbolically create by using meandering pathways. Lighting along the pathways represents illumination through the journey of life. A water basin placed in the garden can represent purification.
Water and stone are the two essential features in any Japanese garden. Moving water, a yang force must balance with areas of reflective still water representing the yin. Larger stones represent mountains and the changlessness of the universe. Evergreens such as dwarf conifers in the plant selection and Japanese maples are traditional as is the Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa). The pathways or gardens should include configurations of rock and gravel which symbolize a river of life from youth to old age and finally enlightenment (satori). A bridge can symbolize the interconnectedness of all things.