I was approached by Francoise Escobar, a practitioner of Chinese medicine, in the autumn of 2015. She wanted to create a Zen Garden for clients outside her new practice room/eco-home in the south of France. Being a dry region the gravel garden formula suited the climate very well. We were on a limited budget so the Japanese Wabi-Sabi design principles fitted perfectly with the client brief. Wabi-Sabi concepts concern:
“Paring things down to the Essence, without removing the Poetry. Keeping things clean and unencumbered, but without sterilising them…”
It seems to me that it’s about honouring the imperfect and asymmetrical, about taking in the merits of unconventional beauty, the quirkiness of unique objects and even the gradual process of decay over time. It’s an:
“…aesthetic sensibility that finds a Melancholic Beauty in the impermanence of all things…”
In keeping with this understated design aesthetic and the limited budget, we re-used materials (always with permission) from the locality. This included bamboo, rounded river rocks, and a beautiful charred sweet chestnut tree trunk as a central feature that had been struck by lightning…
We also used many native plants (lavender, cistus, thyme) to clothe a small ‘hill’ in the garden. This is in keeping with Japanese design principles whereby the garden is a microcosm of the macrocosm (the natural world). Still informed by this principle, we created a sinuous path bordered with rounded pebbles resembling ‘dry river bed’, or ‘kare-san-sui’ in Japanese. This imitates the unparalleled sweeps and curves of rivers as they carve their way through the landscape.
We also harvested sweet chestnut stakes from the client’s partner’s land high on the hills. These we split and turned into a concave arching fence to frame the distant convex line of the hills. Then we placed a bench for visitors to gaze over the low-lying garden to the distant views beyond. No Zen garden would be complete without raked gravel, so we sourced this from a local quarry. We did manage to make our own rake though, with which to imprint the beautiful tiny ridges and valleys that catch the light and make the garden so quintessentially Zen. The boulders betwixt and between were supplied by Bernard – the owner’s partner. They came from one of the vineyards he manages in the area.
This outdoor space acts as the perfect decompression chamber for the client arriving to partake in a Chinese Medicine session. Both before and after the treatment this enclosed garden is a sanctuary that prepares and opens the mind and body for deep relaxation…
Thanks to Bernard, Marc, Adrian and Francoise for their invaluable help with this project.