Karesansui,or Japanese Dry garden design alias Flat Garden consist of Sand and Rock Gardens which are enclosed by walls and Flat Sea Gardens which are surrounded by a landscape of shrubs and trees. This Japanese dry garden style became popular with the advent of Zen Buddhism from China, especially in the small garden spaces of Zen temples in the late 6th century.After the Onin civil wars in the 15th century many wooden houses in Kyoto were destroyed and the new Kyoto was built under the influence of Zen priests who favoured the smaller,less expensive,
abstract “dry rock” gardens.So the Japanese Dry Garden style was perfected.
The two types of flat garden represent different things.The flat Sea garden has fine raked sand to represent the sea (symbolizing the empty mind) with rock and mounded (not upright) plantings positioned to represent islands or mountains.The plant use is minimal with small,low and spreading varieties prefered.This style is often found in front of temples and palaces.
The Sand and Stone Garden using rock,gravel and raked sand to represent a dry stream (karenagare) and/or the arrangement of rock forms to create a dry waterfall(karetaki)is often surrounded by a wall and sometimes evergreen “borrowed scenery”. Like the Chinese landscape ink paintings of the Hokusou dynasty (960-1126),these dry gardens or flat "mind-scapes" are meant to be viewed from a single,seated perspective where one can reflect on nature and as Monty Python said the “meaning of life”.
The aesthetic consonance with sometime extreme abstract art largely accounts for the resurgence of Zen/Japanese dry gardens both in Japan and abroad in the 20th century.This Japanese garden design style is probably the most compatible with western architecture and is easy to create (with minimal expense)and maintain. YES even a dry garden can be beautiful.
“The garden is a world within a world. The Japanese who so skillfully strip the veneer of beauty to find the pure element or the essence of form, delight in the image that is multi-layered.”
– Mark Holborn, The Ocean in the Sand – Japan: From Landscape to Garden.
One of the best examples of the dry garden design using rock and sand and that reflects the native Japanese Shinto as well as the Chinese influence by way of Korea is the famous Ryouan-ji monastery in Kyoto.
Without a speck of dust being raised,
the mountains tower up,
without a single drop falling,
the streams plunge into the valley.
An Ode to the Dry Landscape
by Muso Soseki (1275-1351)