Scotland on Sunday Travel Wishlist – A Scottish Zen garden inspired by a Victorian adventurer’s travels in Japan

From Kyoto to Cowden, Eastern-inspired gardens are places of tranquility

Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 10:25 am

Ella Christie in the Japanese Garden she created at Cowden near Dollar in 1908

A vibrant pink lily on the still waters, a lichen palette of green on grey stone, a tame robin and a bounding red squirrel were all magical in their own restful way.This sense of peace is what I remember from visiting Japan. Amid the relentless bustle of the cities there would be an unexpected haven of calm. Kyoto was the garden capital, but Tokyo and Hiroshima had their silent sanctuaries as well.It was in Kyoto that I first encountered the concept of the rock garden, or Karesansui. It was in Ryōan-ji’s Zen garden that I relished the challenge of finding the stones in the seemingly featureless expanse of grey. That step from bigger picture down to detail is a deeply calming experience.And that same feeling envelops me on the slopes of the Ochils. From the grand views across the Forth Valley, through the postcard-perfect scene of the garden itself, down to the water lily.Yet this peaceful garden is the vision of a woman who had a great energy for adventure. Born in 1861, Isabella “Ella” Christie travelled the world when most Scottish women of her social standing were running the Victorian home. Scotland has a long tradition of adventurers and explorers, but to travel as widely and freely as Ella did is noteworthy in itself.As her great-great-niece Sara Stewart explained: “She went to places that no Western woman had been. She was unbelievably brave and that was how she wanted to spend her life. Ella had been brought up as though she had been a son, so she had been very well educated and wanted to see more of the world.”The Royal Geographical Society recognised that spirit with a fellowship – one of the first awarded to a woman. Travelling with her servant Humpries, and trunks with formalwear for any glamorous events she might be invited to, her destinations included India, Malaya and Tibet and she was one of the first western women to meet the Dalai Lama.Ella was in her 40s when she travelled East, taking in China, Hong Kong, Russia and Japan in 1906 and 1907.In Kyoto she met Ella and Florence du Cane, authors of The Flowers And Gardens Of Japan, and on her return set about creating Shã Raku En, “the place of pleasure and delight”, helped by Taki Handa, a rare female garden designer trained at the at the Royal School of Garden Design in Nagoya.By employing specialists in Japanese garden design, Ella’s garden soon established an international reputation – Professor Jijo Suzuki, head of the Soami School of Imperial Garden Design, declaring it “the best garden in the Western World” and it became a tourist attraction in the 1920s and 1930s as well as a regular attraction in Scotland’s Garden Scheme, which Ella’s sister Alice Stewart helped found.Ella died soon after the end

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Chilled-Out Cat Takes a Nap in the Middle of a Japanese Zen Garden

Zen Garden Cat

Japanese zen gardens are designed to help people relax and meditate on the meaning of life. And apparently, the traditional tranquil spaces aren’t only beneficial to humans. Twitter user kmt (@syu9ji2) recently shared photos online, revealing how a cat decided to take a nap, right in the middle of the raked gravel ripples at the Kuhonbutsu Jōshinji Jōdo Buddhist temple garden in Tokyo.

Cats don’t usually need much convincing when it comes to taking a time out, but the zen garden’s peaceful atmosphere may have had some influence on this particular feline. Kmt’s photos show how the ginger tom is completely “at one” with the zen garden. Traditionally, only the garden caretakers are allowed to step foot on the gravel to create the beautiful patterns. However, this cat doesn’t care for the rules, and took it upon himself to stretch out on the sacred ground.

Later, Kmt snapped more photos of the sleepy kitty lounging around the garden, after he had woken up. This furry little guy is clearly a zen master!

Twitter user kmt (@syu9ji2) recently shared photos online, revealing how a cat decided to take a nap, right in the middle of a zen garden in Tokyo.

Zen Garden Cat

This furry little guy is clearly a zen master!

Zen Garden CatZen Garden Catkmt / @syu9ji2: Twitter

All images via kmt / @syu9ji2.

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Find Inner Peace by Creating Your Very Own Japanese Zen Garden

22 Creative Products to Help You Relax, Unwind, and Achieve “Zen”

Adorable Japanese Cat Thinks She’s a Dog Just Like Her Shiba Inu Siblings

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Find a Touch of Tranquility With a Zen Garden

A Zen garden is a dry Japanese garden composed of sand and rocks. Miniature ones can live on your desk or on a windowsill, where you can rearrange the stones or mini bonsai trees and rake through the fine sand to your heart’s content. Here are the ones we’re shopping for.



a vase of flowers sitting on top of a wooden table: Take a much-needed work break to rake through your garden.


© Provided by BetterYou
Take a much-needed work break to rake through your garden.



a close up of a piece of paper: Rearrange the small stones into delightful patterns.


© Provided by BetterYou
Rearrange the small stones into delightful patterns.

The ripples or swirls caused by raking the sand in Zen gardens are meant to represent water. This is called samon. As a calming exercise, you can create your own designs in the sand using miniature bamboo rakes that come in each kit.



This option is smaller than a sheet of paper, and also comes in a dreamy shade of pale blue.


© Provided by BetterYou
This option is smaller than a sheet of paper, and also comes in a dreamy shade of pale blue.

You can also rearrange the small rocks in Zen gardens to make custom patterns, or follow classical patterns, in which the stones represent waterfalls, mountains or boats journeying on the river of life.



a vase of flowers sitting on top of a wooden table: Take a much-needed work break to rake through your garden.


© Hubert & Quinn
Take a much-needed work break to rake through your garden.

A Zen garden is meant to be a meditative experience—so look for one with a variety of rakes or stones to comb through when your mind is running a million miles an hour. You can always add your own accessories for more variety.

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Zen Garden Design – Principles and History

Zen gardens, originating with Buddhist monks centuries ago, have become all the rage recently. Combining a balance of natural and architectural elements and a blend of humble, simple design juxtaposed with natural wonders, these gardens offer tranquility and beauty galore. As for that balance, Zen gardeners adhere to the principle of (female) yin and the (male) yang. Every facet of a Zen garden is characterized by one or the other, i.e. water is yin; earth is yang. The epitome of a Zen garden is achieved when yin and yang balance for harmonious feng shui; this adheres to a second principle of working with nature’s tendencies as much as your landscape allows.

Designed to produce a 3-D effect of height and depth, a Zen garden is planned with foreground and background to draw one’s focus. More harmony is achieved by balancing different colors, sizes, and shapes of flora, so no one plant overwhelms. Trees and larger shrubbery placed at the rear of your garden offer privacy and a natural backdrop. More feng shui tips for your Zen garden?

Planting for your climate: Mosses, ground covers, ornamental grasses, hardy flowering blooms, shrubs, and focal point trees, in varied heights, colors, and textures, add lush vibrancy to your garden. Drought-resistant plants thrive in a Zen garden’s sandy areas and are perfect for low-rainfall zones. Mosses and low-maintenance ground covers serve to soften straight lines, such as pre-existing walkways, and promote the flow of chi. Choose plants that will flourish in your region.

Nature’s Rocks: Rocks give dimension to a Zen garden. They reflect permanence and respect for the passing of time, while adding energy and emotion to your landscape. Select unique rocks and stones, organizing them according to their special characteristics and sizes; place them where best suited for your garden’s flow. Choose smooth, well-worn stones for added appeal.

Water Features: All elements have a purpose in a Zen garden. Water features such as pools, ponds and fountains offer yin energy and encourage beneficial chi.  Garden lighting to highlight special areas balances that with yang (male) energy. You get the idea. Water elements can include natural facets already in your landscape, i.e. a pre-existing stream or pond, or may be added – either naturally or man-made. Sand and pebble formations can also be used to represent water: swirl sand with a rake or fingertips to create a rippling water effect – the swirls also promote the flow of chi in your garden. While sand areas are lovely, I prefer using them in tandem with actual water features for more dramatic appeal.

Paths and Walkways: Paths should never be straight, as chi energy is supposed to flow gently. A Zen garden craves meanderings and curves to soften straight lines and edging, because a curved path encourages chi to move more slowly and freely. If you already have straight paths, plant mosses to soften them; allow plants to grow over edges to help chi to circulate freely.

Bridges: Most of us have seen the stock …

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The Symbolism in a Zen Garden

The primary structure of a Japanese garden is determined by the architecture that contain it; that is, the framework of enduring elements such as buildings, verandas and terraces, paths, tsukiyama (artificial hills), and stone compositions. It is ideal to set in small areas or places without enough light or ventilation required for a traditional garden.

There is a wide range of Zen thought in the Japanese garden. Here are some key elements as examples:

Gates (torii), fences, straw ropes, and cloth banners acted as signs to demarcate paces.

Bridges (hashi), passing over the bridge was analogous to passing from one world to the next. As Zen influence came into the forefront, bridges took on the more Taoist meaning of passing from the world of man into the world of nature, a move from this plane to a higher one

Water (Mizu) Buddhism is always considered water the most apt metaphor for human existence, springing up, gathering strength in its downhill race to disappear calmly into the sea (reborn again as rain). In ponds in the garden, it creates a "negative" space in the garden where nothing else resides.

Plantings. Although Zen actually decreased the plant palette when it arrived, still there are a few Zen ideas in the plantings. Large bamboo are often found in temple gardens as the canes are a perfect example of the principle of mushin or "empty heart" (the empty heart provides strength through flexibility). Plums are a recurrent Zen theme, flowering without leaf, often while snow is still on the ground (symbolizing resilience and rebirth). Pine is known as mutsu , a sound-alike for the word for 'waiting', so it is set in the garden as a symbol of strength and patience

Shrines were more of a mental construct than physical emplacements, a place that existed in the mind instead of a place that could be seen. The shrine is a setting of spirit. It is also a place where humans and spirit meet.

Sand or gravel represents water. Raked or not raked, that symbolizes sea, ocean, rivers or lakes.

The act of raking the gravel into a pattern recalling waves or rippling water has an aesthetic function. Zen priests practice this raking also to help their concentration. Achieving perfection of lines is not easy. Rakes are according to the patterns of ridges as desired and limited to some of the stone objects situated within the gravel area. Nonetheless often the patterns are not static. Developing variations in patterns is a creative and inspiring challenge.

Stones are the major elements of design in Japanese garden. They are considered more important than trees to the Japanese, perhaps due to the strong desire for eternity and stones represent the eternal elements in nature. In Japanese garden design, stones are used in combination with other stones, or sand to imply a natural scene or to create an abstract design. The shapes of natural stones have been divided into five categories called five natural stones. The Japanese used the …

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