A meditation garden, sometimes called a contemplation garden, is a fairly new concept. Of course gardens and meditation has been around for centuries, but the combination of the two as a specific serene spot you can create yourself is more of a modern concept.

This type of garden shouldn't be confused with a Zen garden that you would find at a temple. Many of the temple gardens in Kyoto for example are meant to be observed from a particular angle. There are also strolling gardens that allow you get a little closer to nature, however these are different concepts than creating your own space at home. A dry rock garden for example is minimalist by design and it encourages the observer to use their imagination when it comes to a portrayed landscape of mountains, rivers, and temples.

This is definitely one route to go when designing your own meditation garden, as long as your incorporate a comfortable sitting space as well. Two great feature of a dry rock garden are:

1) They are low maintenance. The lack of many flowers etc. allows you to spend less time with upkeep.
2) In an area like Buffalo and Grand Island, where we have pretty severe winters, the garden still maintains a unique form even when covered in snow. Using various size large rocks creates a wonderful effect in winter.

The initial start-up costs for the dry rock garden may be higher due to the prices of small boulders, but yearly maintenance and upkeep fees are minimal at best.

Others may wish to go a different route and create something that directly touches all of the senses. A good Japanese garden is one that has incorporated something for all four seasons into it. That way the garden is always alive and seen from a different perspective. You want to create a meditation garden that you are comfortable and intrigued in all throughout the seasons.

Western gardens also tend to use a lot of plants and flowers so this may look more natural given your housing situation. The Japanese garden is often restricted by boundaries that create a feeling of it being a sacred space. The idea of a sacred space is what we are aiming for when thinking of a meditational garden. Even in a larger more open yard, for example, you can start with something in a corner and think of it as a separate but connected room. When you enter this room you want to be surrounded by things that lend themselves to calmness and serenity.

A Sanctuary for the Senses

Flowers create a scent memory that can draw you back to the garden from time to time. A bench or area on the grass supplies the sense of touch and gives you the comfort and stability to meditate in the garden. Visually you want something intriguing or mysterious, but not too distracting. Remember, CLARITY is the goal of a meditation garden, not a color smorgasbord to impress the neighbors walking by.

A water feature is also a great relaxing stimulus for the ears. Watching a small stream of water can have a great calming effect, but because we have so many memories and images of flowing water, the mere sound of it trickling can also be a refreshing stimulus. The more you can stimulate all of the senses the more connected to nature you are likely to feel.

The Sanctuary Gate

You want to create a place that you can call your sanctuary. A place you are comfortable and protected in. For me, shaded spots seem to have a more enclosed feeling, and can also be a nice retreat from the direct summer sun.

A path or entranceway is also something to consider as a starting point of the meditation garden. The Japanese Roji, or pathways up to the teahouses, are great examples of a space dedicated to calming and preparing you to enter a world different from the one you just left. Sometimes they can be quite narrow at the beginning of the path and I like to think that this was intentionally designed as the place to leave your problems at the door. An actual entranceway such as a Japanese style gate or a pergola with hanging wisteria for example can also be a great way of distinguishing the different areas.

This site about Japanese gardens (http://www.grand-island-serene-gardens.com/japanese-gardens.html) is recommended for more detailed information and interesting videos with accompanying ambient music. Whether you are aiming for a meditational garden where you can sit quietly or do yoga or tai chi, it should be a place you are comfortable in and you can focus on the nature around you.

Author's Bio: 

Joshua M. Smith, PhD., is the owner of Grand Island Serene Gardens (http://www.grand-island-serene-gardens.com), a website dedicated to both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture and art. He received his Phd in Japan at Osaka University and researches various areas of Japanese culture, such as Japanese music, Japanese gardens, and spirituality.