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A Garden for Enlightenment

It is said that Buddha attained enlightenment while sitting under a tree. Aspiring for enlightenment, Japanese Zen Buddhist monks created gardens specifically for meditation. Jan Napoleon visited her son in Japan, encountered these gardens, and became inspired-to garden.

A retired nursing professor at Southern Oregon University, Jan began with a small memorial garden for her deceased parents.

Built just outside her Talent home's solarium, the memorial garden features a small koi pond with a waterfall, a delightfully twisted Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), an 'Ever Red' Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum atropurpureum), a weeping laceleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum) and a butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), with a groundcover of redwood bark.

"It was built to the left of the front door (looking out from the house)," Jan explains, "so the energy flows from left to right, following the precepts of feng shui which the Japanese adopted from China."

Jan built that first garden by herself. A neighbor with a tractor dug the pond and she had the black basalt rocks delivered right up next to the pond.

"I couldn't lift them," Jan says, "so I had to roll them into place."

After building that garden seven years ago Jan wanted to learn more. She made five more trips to Japan for study. What she learned is incorporated into her landscape.

There are three primary styles of Zen gardens. One style is known as a chaneua, or small space or courtyard garden. Second is karesansui, the dry garden, usually a simple arrangement of sand or gravel with a few large stones. The third, kaiyusheki, is the strolling garden.

Jan's kaiyusheki covers about an acre, and incorporates all the styles. From the entrance gate of the property, a path winds up the hill to the memorial garden. On the way, one passes inspirational vignettes including a large granite Buddha, a stream and waterfall, raked beds of natural-hued gravel with arrangements of large stones, benches, bridges and lanterns.

"The idea is to create spots that are inviting for you to stop and sit and relax and meditate," Jan says. "The overall goal in a strolling garden is to advance the eye in a curved fashion which makes the visitor want to walk all the way."

A large wall that Jan created by stacking stones without mortar was one of these inviting elements, designed to be seen from downhill, head on and also from above.

While the goal is for the garden to look "natural," the placement of objects follows very specific rules.

Zen gardens tend to be non-floral, with shades of green dominating, accented by the colors of rocks. There might be one type of flowering plant as an accent. Azaleas, rhododendrons, wisteria and peonies are frequently used in this manner. Other color accents come from the tree leaves. Jan designed hers to incorporate a tapestry of colors for four seasons, paying particular attention to the interaction of the trees and plants as the seasons change.

The placement of rocks is very important. Upright rocks are set in a non-equilateral triangle. Rocks are always placed in odd numbers, usually three, but also five or seven,

Water features are also important. Jan used broken concrete to line the large waterfall she created that flows into Anderson Creek. Covered now with moss, the waterfall looks like it has been there forever.

"I brought in at least 20 tons of rocks - they are all local," Jan says. They include basalt, serpentine, granite and shale. The driveways and some paths are crushed blue shale. Other paths are flat rocks or bricks.

"In any Zen garden you are looking to create simplicity and tranquility," Jan says. "You want to combine elements - metal, wood and plants, stone, sometimes water and fire. The essence is the flow of energy. And it has to be visually beautiful all year round."

Beauty, tranquility, inspiration - Jan's garden combines all these elements artfully, an ongoing invitation to contemplation and release from the everyday stresses of life.