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Zen Gardens

Zen Gardens
Erik Borja
Seven Dials
Publication Date: 

cloth, 163 p., $21.95

Zen gardening stands out as a fascinating art form. Nature, spirituality, religion, ritual and gardening all combine into this ancient practice. Erik Borja specializes in the design of Oriental gardens, and for more than 20 years Zen has inspired his work. In this book, Mr. Borja introduces the reader to the historical background, design elements and plants that together create a Zen garden.

After introducing the novice reader to the vocabulary of Zen, Mr. Borja explains the fundamental ideas behind the Zen garden. Interestingly, he finds the key value for the garden in its ability to communicate the subjective emotion of its creator. The expression of these emotions seems at odds with the rigid structure of the Zen garden. Still, Mr. Borja believes that both Zen philosophy and the concept of the garden embody paradox: they allow for the individual expression of feelings yet, simultaneously, they also reflect the world's universal nature.

Overall, Zen Gardens has better photographs than text. Mr. Borja has some insightful and thought-provoking lines, such as when he remarks on page 162 that "Learning to look and to feel before trying to understand seems to me the right approach to take with nature," but generally he seems uncomfortable and terse in his role as author. Only through Paul Maurer's wonderful photographs, primarily of Mr. Borja's gardens, does the author's genius shine.

This book has some interesting explorations of the ideas surrounding Zen gardens, but as a practical guide it falls short. Thanks to the stunning layout and photographs, however, it succeeds as a beautiful work in itself.

— Joshua H. Rosen, Intern, Continuing Education, Chicago Botanic Garden