Erik Borja's Zen Garden

Erik Borja's Zen Garden

A sculptor by training, Erik Borja is today a reference in the creation of Japanese-inspired gardens. Its Drôme garden is a reflection of its aesthetic and spiritual aspirations with nature. If like him, you are looking for serenity and harmony, discover the benefits of Zen gardens and try to create one at home thanks to the advice provided by this artist of green spaces.

Tell us about your background

After studying at the School of Fine Arts in Algiers, I moved to Paris in 1962 to continue my artistic research. It was 10 years later that I started to sketch my first Japanese-inspired garden around a sheepfold on the family wine estate in Drôme. A few years later, I embark on a study trip to Japan where I visit Zen Buddhist monasteries. Deeply upset, I am convinced that I have found a new path to my creativity, my quest for spirituality and my deep need for communion with nature. I then leave Paris and set up my workshop in Drôme where, alongside my sculptures, I develop the concept of Zen gardens on a surface of 3 hectares around my residence. Reception, meditation, tea and promenade gardens follow one another from the house to the river at the bottom of the hill. This space becomes a place of study and creation where I fully invest myself. I have since been asked by amateurs sensitive to my work to design this type of garden and I count to date nearly thirty achievements in Europe. Today, I pass on my teaching to many trainees with the help of my loyal assistants in the context of my Drôme garden.

What is a Zen garden?

The Zen garden or Kare-Sansui means dry landscape. Designed by monks of the Zen Buddhist doctrine, this style of garden is intended for meditative practice. It presents itself as a three-dimensional painting evoking in metaphorical form a maritime landscape. The rocks suggest islands and the surface of raked gravel, the ocean. At its peak, with the creation of the Ryoan-ji garden in 1500, the garden became timeless. All vegetation having disappeared, it symbolizes the uniqueness of the Universe, a metaphysical space conducive to spiritual elevation in the contemplation of a nature sublimated by man.

What plants are there?

In so-called meditation gardens, the mineral dominates and the plants used sparingly. Mosses, shrubs of azaleas cut into compact masses, and pines are most often used. In tea or promenade gardens, flowering trees and shrubs such as cherry, plum, Judas trees, camellias and even azaleas are commonly used. There are also maple and bamboo trees, and many conifers.

How did you think about yours?

It is difficult for an artist to describe the creative process. What I can say today, after forty years devoted to this garden, is that it seems to me like my best self-portrait. It is the materialization of my poetic reveries and my aesthetic research. In its realization, it is a true spiritual journey in communion with nature.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to create a Zen garden at home?

First learn to deeply feel this nature and then follow its teaching. It is in this fused relationship with her that the literate monks of Zen monasteries created this concept where artistic and spiritual approach combine. Nature offers us magnificent subjects of wonder, we must draw inspiration from it and transcend this reality to reveal its very essence. Far from copying nature, by the power of the imaginary, we reinvent it according to our sensitivity and our heart.
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