City Walks – “Zen” Garden

It's Definitely A Garden

A while back I posted photos of a big city park with a reservoir in the middle. A healthy distance away from the main part of the park there is a small side entrance. It’s about a couple of miles of walking from my house.

On the walk there, someone had repurposed this street sign, which I’m sure was unconnected to what was ahead.

Sign saying good things ahead

The side entrance is near some old industrial buildings, with giant TV antennas in the background.

Old buildings along path

And then you come to a bridge made out of a metal sheet crossing a little stream.

Piece of metal over stream

Following the path up the hill, you come to a line of stones along the path with the inscription ZEN on one side and GARDEN on the other, leading to a clearing alongside a new housing development.

People in the neighborhood spent an impressive amount of time and sweat putting this garden together, and it’s open to all.

Stone lined path

To be precise, this is not a traditional Zen garden by any measure. Zen aesthetics are less angular and direct — a traditional path would never be so straight — and also more constrained than what you see here. Zen is disciplined, and the vibe of this place is much more improvised and unfocused, with a mishmash of cultures represented.

But it’s still a delightful place.

Origin Story

These two photos convey the original purpose of this space, before the community group got to work.

You can still see big piles of concrete here and there. The area was a dumping ground for leftover slabs and beams from construction projects, and the people creating the garden made use of a lot of these pieces. Here are some piles which still haven’t been reclaimed.

Pile of concrete bloks

Also, the area was a dumping ground for marble and other stone that was intended for cemetery memorials but never used. There are a number of small plots inside the park, and occasionally the stone carvers who worked nearby would make mistakes and dump them here.

You can see them scattered all over, including one supporting this statue of the Buddha.

Buddha statue on stones

Here is a weathered, partially carved stone tree limb, from the days when mourners had moved on from harsh Death’s heads and into more sentimental, naturalistic decorations for cemetery monuments.

carved stone tree limb

And here you see a partially carved spire or possibly post for a fence around a plot.

Stone pillar

More Features

The whole garden is a mishmash of different cultures. For example, this is a square platform for Yoga, which comes from Hindu traditions. There are plastic bins helpfully left on a bench for mats and cushions, and for whatever reason a hula hoop hangs from a tree.

Yoga platform

Here is a nod toward a Shinto Torii, or gate, although it is much more angular than the real thing. And while Shinto is a Japanese religion, it’s distinct from Zen.

Torii gate

Here is a drawing of Buddha under the Bodhi tree, which is part of the central story of Buddhism, but then it is flanked by a Yin Yang symbol, which is only peripheral.

Painted Buddha with yin yang symbol

Still More Features

Regardless of the randomness of the features, it’s still a wonderfully inviting place. You could imagine young children having a blast here, climbing on the stone walls, running up and down the paths, their laughter echoing off the piles of rock and concrete.

In one section the makers constructed this stone circle.

Stone circle with pillar in middle

Random constructions with unknown significance dot the site, such as this pile of rocks topped with a peace flag.

Large pile of rocks

And here is a construction of some sort with an orb, head, glass vessel, and other random elements.

Art installation with random elements

Paths lined with stone and concrete blocks lead away from the garden deeper into the woods.

Stone lined path

Here and there are set benches and chairs for both adults and kids to take a rest, and on the stone bench you can see examples of the random drawings that have been made all over.

Bench, stone with drawings, chair

Decorations show up everywhere.

Tiles on a stone

Even if it’s not traditional, it’s a wonderful example of collaborative action — people getting together to come up with a unique and welcoming experience, something which must have taken a huge amount of time and muscle power to create and maintain, but also returns huge rewards.

The setting is lovely, nestled at the top of a small ridge in a young forest that is slowly recovering from the days 80 years ago when the area was clear cut. And this time of year, as the leaves are still bright but starting to fall hard, is a great time to visit. You can imagine how it might be lovely at other times too, maybe in the winter covered by fresh snow, or in the spring when the snowdrops, or later the ranunculus and celadine are in bloom.

What’s great about this space is that out of the little contradictions something bigger, harder to define, transcends the smaller pieces it contains.



  1. Oh, that’s so nice! I love the repurposing of the stone, and the mix of culture. I’d love doing yoga there.
    The city built a labyrinth at a local park. It was completely paid for by private donations. But it’s adjacent to both the dog paddock and the parking lot. Not exactly a quiet and calm spot for meditation. And there’s no plaque explaining how to walk a labyrinth for people who’ve never done it. I’ve yet to see anyone using it.

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