We are finally getting a decent snowfall here in northern New Jersey, so of course, my thoughts have turned to my garden. My poor, long-neglected backyard garden, which I always start each spring with such high hopes, only to abandon it in August when the weeds and bugs become overwhelming. And let’s face it: The deer and chipmunks and squirrels and birds always get to anything edible before I do. They don’t even wait for anything to fully ripen, but devour it all, raw and green. Only the strongest of the herbs survive now, in particular the Greek oregano, which has proclaimed its dominance by spreading itself across the whole face of the vegetable patch.
So a makeover is definitely in order. And as my interest in Japanese culture grows, it suddenly seemed obvious. Why not a Zen Garden? Simple, minimalistic even, and very spiritual. I might even do some writing it in, and certainly some reading. A neighbor down the street has one, as her front garden, and I’ve been walking past, studying it, envious of its clean lines and simplicity.
Next to the oregano, my wisteria, rampant and twisted over an iron arch, is the crowning glory of my spring garden (it started as a cutting from my next-door-neighbor, so it has family in the area). So the garden will be essentially a path through that arch, which is the perfect metaphor for life in general, the arch of course being the portal from life into afterlife, except that in real life, you would end up in my neighbor’s driveway. Not sure of the spiritual significance of that. But from a practical point of view, this Zen scheme is a crazy-easy notion to pull off. All I need is gravel for the bed—Crushed granite, I’m told is the most traditional—and rake-able–but I may have to settle for sacks of pea gravel from Home Depot. I even have a stone bench for reflection, which I fashioned out of our old bluestone front step and two concrete blocks. And we have tons of rocks and small boulders, which my husband and I literally yanked out of the ground when we first tried to plant this garden. I can thank the retreating ice glaciers from eons ago for those.
Most of the Zen gardens I see just contain beds of moss, which are eminently appropriate for my sodden and shady site. But I will have to ask my Japanese students about traditional and favorite bushes and plants, and maybe pick out one or two to complement my ancient but prolific wisteria. I may leave the oregano, but I’m clamping down: it’s going to get a very severe haircut.
So that’s the plan right now, as the snow continues to fall: Something to look forward to, if this invincible winter ever decides to finally end.