The Zen Garden: The Fruit of a Class Vision | St. Lawrence University

The Zen Garden: The Fruit of a Class Vision

Brendan Reilly

It’s not hard to find a peaceful spot on the St. Lawrence campus. I’ve spent countless afternoons beneath autumn-tinged trees, or reclined in an Adirondack chair on the quad, spending quiet moments to let the North County beauty sink in. But there is one place on campus to which I’m drawn in a special way: the North Country Garden, or Kitaguni no Niwa. This Japanese garden nestled in a dorm courtyard provides me with frequent opportunities for reflection and meditation, which help rejuvenate the spirit and recharge the mind of a busy college student. I often enter the garden after class and stroll through, taking a moment to relax on one of the level-topped sitting stones and admire the plant life and rock formations gorgeously implemented into the garden design. However, this garden holds meaning beyond its serenity and beauty. Kitaguni no Niwa is filled with the life of our students and professors.

The North Country Garden was a project that began in 2006 and was completed nearly a decade ago. A student group was assembled for a seminar on Japanese gardens and Zen Buddhism, followed by a summer trip to Japan for first-hand experience with Japanese garden design. Upon their return to St. Lawrence, the students and professors began their project of turning an ordinary courtyard into a garden that synthesizes Zen aesthetics with Adirondack plant life and geology.

Professor of East Asian religions Mark MacWilliams offered his insight to the project, seen in the elements of Daoism and Zen Buddhism present in the garden. Geology professor Cathy Shrady provided her expertise for the garden, which incorporates elements like samples of Adirondack rock that contain the world’s largest garnet formations. Along with the help of seven students that came from diverse academic areas of interest, a project was created that epitomizes the close-knit bond between St. Lawrence students and faculty.

Even today, Professor MacWilliams and his beloved dog, Taro, can often be found working in the garden alongside a new generation of students who carry on the legacy of student-professor collaboration. Nearly 10 years after the completion of the garden, its spirit of campus unity is alive and well. The garden will forever be a special place for me, reminding me each time I enter of the wonderful bond between all members of St. Lawrence University.