Maximum Zen

I love the idea of minimalism. A living room you could navigate blindfolded. A mantle you could dust with a single swipe. It’s such a pretty lie. If you tried to swipe-dusk my mantle you would knock over three puzzle boxes, a stuffed donkey, a music box shaped like a witch, six plants and about thirty picture frames. Turns out I’m not great at the whole “self-control” aspect of minimalism. Neither is my mom.

Throughout our lives, my mother’s tiny, backyard gardens have been a constant project. We’ve stoned pathways, built small collapsing hills for “interest,” attempted edibles and desert-scapes, and rock gardens and even, once, a hot tub. The only constant was the inclination to overdo.

So when mom told me, last summer, that she was hiring a gentleman to design and create a zen garden out of her current urban yard-strip, I had my doubts. The design was beautiful. There was a dry stream bed. Some reedy things. A single, subtle, stone lantern.

“I found the lantern!” Mom texted. She included a picture. It was neither subtle nor particularly “Asian” looking. The gardener tried to protest. Maybe she’d like something more traditional? No, she would not. The lantern went it. The fairies would have someplace to sleep, at least.

That was the beginning of the end of zen. The landscape artist, as Mr. Miyagi as anyone could hope for, did all the heavy lifting himself, setting stones just so beside the so-few, just-so plants. Mom helpfully placed a few additional decorative items to fill in the negative space. Nothing crazy. A smallish buddha. An art-deco lady who was almost buddhist looking. A cat wearing a chef hat. The landscaper politely protested and tried again to explain the whole zen thing.

“Absolutely,” mom said. “I love it. It’s perfect.” She hid the chef-cat at my house when I wasn’t looking.

The zen gardener was paid handsomely. His artistry was photographed and shared on social media. Mom sat back to enjoy all the zen.

But something was missing.

The plants were SO sparse, really – it wouldn’t hurt just to have a few more tucked in here and there to fill things out. And what’s a zen garden without a zen wind chime? And a peaceful zen cat sculpture. And a cat with binoculars. Look, there’s a bird perched right on the cat’s binoculars! That’s hysterical….ly zen. Throw in a bird feeder or two and just a FEW more plants…

I went to visit this last weekend. The redesign was last summer. It’s now Spring and Mom’s garden is finally just about where she likes it.

After a quick trip to ROSS, that is, and just a couple more buddha sculptures…to really drive home the whole zen thing. In case you were distracted by the stone cats and colorful ceramic birds.

Maximum Zen

I feel like it needs one more thing…to really maximize the zen.

Frankly, the whole effect is so charming and fun that I’m thinking about jumping on this minimalism trend myself. I wonder how many buddha statues I could fit on my mantle?

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