Over a six week period, myself and a group of amazing people moved, groomed and magically transformed a gravelly site into a sublime Zen garden. I encountered Japanese Rock Gardens in Richard Bullen’s Japanese Art paper at Canterbury University. Often made from Earth sourced materials these gardens offer a quiet and restful environment. Our society is saturated with attention grabbing: media, news, politics, entertainment, sport, opinion, gossip - the list goes on. Very little space in our inner or outer worlds is left for us to rest and recuperate. Designing a garden that is made from our natural surroundings arranged in a subtle, minimalist aesthetic can be so peaceful to our mind, body and spirit.

I was lucky enough to be awarded money from the second funding round of The Social, a post quake artist funding group organised by Art Beat. The Site lease was brokered by Life in Vacant Spaces. A wonderful organization who is the often silent reason for the success of many transitional post quake projects.


A friend was hosting his wise master meditation teacher from Singapore and took him on a tour through the city. This man was affronted by the state of the CBD. Looking left to right, right to left he proclaimed each and every site was a mess! This was true until he drove past this spot and observed, “ah, but THAT looks like a Zen Garden”.



We began by cleaning up our corner of Manchester & Cashel Streets. Luckily, only a moderate amount of stuff was found onsite and most of it was usable. These were tyres, bricks, broken pieces of wood, tiles, lupin shrubs and many many greywacke stones. These were mounded into little hillocks that were then covered with soil and ready lawn.

NB: were I to do this again, I would have used a ground cover such as clover, Leptinella squalida, Alyssum, Thyme. Although they may have taken a wee while to grow, they don’t need the same maintenance as grass - cutting - and they wouldn’t have dried out quite so much.

Rocks were collected from the gardens of earthquaked houses. It was lovely to be able to shift these rocks who had once lived in a families backyard and reactive them in the unique and burgeoning post quake CBD. Who knows if an owner walked past one of their rocks?

It MUST be said though - these rocks don’t really belong to humans - they belong to our Earth. I would campaign that we have a part share of these rocks - all of Earths species have a right to use the resources of their local environments to house, feed, fuel them - BUT HUMANS ARE ABUSING THIS PRIVILEGE. When we build infrastructure in the exponential growth model of Capitalism which constantly seeks to get bigger and sell more, we are using an ever dwindling landscape of hard materials. We are mining Earth’s incredibly diverse and unique ecosystems which span hillsides, beaches, rivers, valleys, deserts, icecaps, glaciers, oceans, rivers all to feed our hunger for more.

Infrastructure is so important to running a functioning and hygienic society, but now more than ever, we need to seek sustainable and intelligent options. These could use the abundance of waste we have stupidly made (here looking at you plastic) or use crops that grow in abundance (love you hemp!) We need to step away from the natural resources that we have mined to scarcity and in doing so, give the ecosystems that once inhabited these landscapes of earth to recover.