By SARAH GOODNOUGH
Over the first weekend of April, Gardens Unlimited Bonsai Nursery, the design team working on UMW’s Zen garden, solved a major drainage issue to prevent rainwater from washing down into the amphitheater construction area. The area behind Trinkle Hall where the Zen garden is being built slopes down a steep hill that leads directly to the amphitheater. This is problematic because it causes rainwater to wash down into the construction area.
“This has been a major problem for erosion the whole time that Trinkle has been here,” said UMW Assistant Professor Dan Hirshberg. “This [area] is like a trough that collects all the water from the upper part of campus and runs right past here around this corner.”
Bob Chilton and Todd Stewart with Gardens Unlimited solved this issue by creating a stone waterfall at the corner of Trinkle Hall descending down the hill toward the amphitheater. They built it in such a way to remain as aesthetically pleasing as the rest of the garden while still preventing massive amounts of drainage from washing into the construction. They maintained the aesthetic appearance by placing two Japanese white pine trees atop the waterfall to transform it into a miniature mountain scene.
“They came up with this in different stages with the larger rocks, these river stones, coming around representing water coming down and then they put in these trees,” said Dr. Hirshberg.
In addition to the newly planted trees and waterfall, the Zen garden consists of three large boulders, several smaller ones and a hand built bamboo fence to hide the nearby air conditioning units. Chilton and Stewart have worked to ensure that the garden is as authentic as possible by sourcing the materials locally and designing things by hand. The pine trees were acquired from a nursery in Northern Virginia, the bamboo was sourced from a local Virginia forest and the boulders come from Tennessee.
“All of the stones have to be natural,” said Dr. Hirshberg. “They come from a few different sources but the big ones came from the mountains of Tennessee and have been sitting at a specialized garden store in Virginia for a while.”
Two of the boulders weigh four tons and the smaller of the three weighs two and a half. The tallest one represents a mountain and, when looked at through the windows of the Leidecker Center for Asian Studies, aligns with the view of the bell tower.
“They were just placed ever so perfectly, inch by inch,” said Dr. Hirshberg. “It has such a perfect correlate for the bell tower.”
Despite its unfinished state, the Zen garden has already attracted a number of visitors. Students from Trinkle Hall are drawn outdoors by the noticeable stones and are able to hang out in the partially constructed space.
“It makes this spot a lot prettier,” said Hollis Pultz, a junior computer science and mathematics double major. “It’s a very welcoming space.”
Since the project began in the fall of 2015, the Leidecker Center has sponsored the construction of the Zen garden. The center was founded in 1998 by the Mary Washington College Board of Visitors in honor of the late Kurt F. Leidecker, a professor of philosophy who taught at Mary Washington College from 1948 to 1973. After his death, he left his estate to the university and it was used to form the Leidecker Center for Asian Studies.
Dr. Medhi Aminrazavi is a professor in the department of classics, philosophy and religion and the co-director of the Leidecker Center. He was the first one to suggest building a Zen garden on campus.
“For some time, I thought a Zen garden would not only beautify the campus but also provide an educational opportunity,” said Dr. Aminrazavi. “The Zen garden is not merely a garden, it is the crossroad between landscaping and spirituality, simplicity and discipline and provides an opportunity to familiarize students with Buddhism in general and Zen Buddhism in particular.”
Dr. Hirshberg, a Buddhism specialist, is the center’s associate director. He was inspired by Japanese art and gardens to explore the idea of implementing Dr. Aminrazavi’s idea.
“Japan is unique in having these modes of aesthetic practices, paths of working with beauty that also lead to enlightenment,” said Dr. Hirshberg.
These elements are being applied to the Zen garden.
While it is meant to be an aesthetically pleasing space, it also functions as a space of meditation and contemplative practice.
“The garden itself really represents our UMW and, in general, liberal arts interest in multiculturalism as a fundamental value,” said Dr. Hirshberg. “Likewise, our wellness initiatives here are trying to support our students to live a life with less stress and anxiety, greater empathy, attention and so on.”
Between private donors and the UMW Foundation accounts held by the Leidecker Center, the project has received most of its funds; however, as of now, the project is only half funded and there is still work to be done.
“Funding has come from a variety of sources,” said Dr. Hirshberg. “The Leidecker Center itself is right now one of the primary ones. We’ve had a number of private donors but we’re still seeking fundraising.”
One of the ways funding is being reached is through the Giving to Mary Washington initiative, where people can donate to specific causes across the university. Some students are getting involved by offering to help out with the Zen garden once it is finished.
“Students have mentioned interest in helping maintain it and that’s a good thing because it’s a ton of work and right now that’s all on me,” said Dr. Hirshberg. “We’ll incorporate it into the meditation courses. They’ll be doing practice out there anyway and there’s a sense of mindfulness and action, and the garden will be ideal for that.”
The Zen garden is continually evolving under Chilton and Stewart’s design. In the coming weeks, crushed marble will be spread across the area around the boulders so that it can be raked into traditional patterns. A large stone lantern will be added along with plants and temple bells to represent sound and knowledge. The opening ceremony and dedication is scheduled for June 2 to coincide with Reunion Weekend. By then, the Zen garden will be finished, provided that additional funding comes through.
“Soon, the campus community and the Fredericksburg community will see what an authentic Zen garden looks like and students will have a chance to study its symbolism,” said Dr. Aminrazavi. “The late Professor Leidecker would have been pleased to see how much his original endowment has accomplished.”