Contribution from Freelance Writer and Landscape Gardener, Sally Writes
Zen gardens are a representation of life. They incorporate natural elements to create a miniature landscape of the real world. Not only can these gardens use elements of life to stimulate meditation, but it can also promote and encourage wildlife visitors such as birds. Just like the humans that meditate in Zen gardens, our winged friends here on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands can also be attracted to the elements of Zen.
Water, or mizu (水) in Japanese, is one of the most important elements of a Zen garden. Since water is a essential element for life, it is also a vital component of your Zen garden. The dripping of a garden waterfall represents the passage of time and can help meditators in their contemplation. It gives the garden life as it represents purification and cleansing, but can also be used to literally bring life to the garden. Water is a magnet for a wide variety of wildlife. The motion of water and the sound of dipping or splashing catches the attention of birds from quite a distance and can attract migrating birds or casual visitors flying by. Slowly moving water and ponds can be home to Western Painted Turtles and amphibians, and provide habitat for insects that bats rely on. (Photo right: Cedar Waxwing photo by Jeffrey W)
Ishi (石) or rocks are the building blocks of a Zen garden. They represent the mountains in your miniature landscape and are used to add strength and power to the garden. Putting rocks around your water fountain will strengthen the water element by adding power and security, but it also provides a place for your beaked visitors to perch and for butterflie to rest on. Rocks are also important shelter to reptiles like the Sharp-tailed Snake. The Zen element of strength extends from the rocks and becomes a shelter for birds and other animals to hide in or sometimes camouflage themselves from predators. (Photo right: Sharp-tailed Snake by Laura Matthias)
Probably the most important element of any garden is the plants, or shokubutsu (植物). A Zen garden likes contrasts to stimulate the brain, so typically you can plant opposing colors and encourage yin and yang. Try planting bright yellow blossoms to represent the light of yang, next to dark green plants like ferns as yin. Since different birds and other pollinators like different colors and types of plants, this also gives a wide variety of colors to catch the eye of a bird or bee flying by. Some are attracted to the bright yellows and pinks, while others seek the dull colors that provide camouflage, protection, and nesting material. Adding these elements of Zen to your garden can help turn it into a garden of life. You can stimulate meditation and introspection as you sit in your garden and at the same time, promote and encourage wildlife.