Pinckney couple's Zen garden exudes tranquility and 'little surprises'

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

If there was ever a time that we could all use some serious Zen, now is it. Luckily, Steven and Kathy Braykovich of Pinckney don't have to travel far for their Zen fix.

Just outside their back door, the regular world ends and a Zen garden begins, one that exudes peace, harmony and tranquility with water, plants, koi and more. 

For more than 20 years, Steven and Kathy have worked on transforming their yard into an oasis, project by project, turning it into so much more than grass and plants but a series of four tranquil seating areas. Flagstone meanders throughout the yard, creating connecting different elements. Steven has even wired speakers through four zones in the garden for music to play.

"Our idea was to have a tranquil, predominately informal, Asian, Zen influenced garden that had many defined areas for gathering and meditation," said Steven, the owner of a digital manufacturing company in Wixom who does a lot of work with Japanese and Korean companies. "...We try to do little surprises so you walk around, 'Oh, look at that!"

And it's a pretty awesome place for entertaining.

"We've had serious wine parties here," Steven said. "It got to the point where people were calling us and saying, 'When is your wine tasting party'?

Symbolism is evident throughout the backyard's design, from the butterflies on a tree for Kathy's deceased parents to the Zen waterfall artfully assembled with different rocks that represent islands, beaches and a mountain. Red -- a powerful symbol in Japanese gardens, representing wisdom and transformation -- also is dotted throughout the yard, from a red bridge that crisscrosses the stream to a red bench.

English Gardens designed the terrace area. Steven and Kathy installed the meditation area right behind it.

Steven, who owns a  said he wanted a Zen-inspired garden because it's about peacefulness and balance. He has a friend in Kyoto, Japan who helps guide him about what is and isn't OK in the garden.

"I really got an appreciation for the peacefulness, serenity, and modesty associated with their culture and gardens," said Steven.

Steve Braykovich's zen garden in Pinckney, Michigan on June 12, 2020.

Steven grew up gardening, something both his mother and grandmother did. 

"It's all in the family," said Steven. "We all garden."

The backyard's evolution started more than 20 years ago after the couple built their house in 1991. It's located on a golf course, just off the ladies' 9th tee. There was an area in the back of the yard, where the wellhead is that was long, narrow and mounded with rocks lining the perimeter.

"I called it a gravesite — which is what it looked like to me," remembers Steven. "I was tired of it."

The couple's first big addition was the water feature which leads to a koi pond. After hiring a landscape firm called Harry's Special Places in Novi to build a waterfall, stream and pond for one of Steven's office buildings in Novi, Steven loved the end result so much he asked Harry's to install something similar at home.

After the water feature (the pond is maintained by Aquatic Oasis in Whitmore Lake), there have been at least two more additions with the help of English Gardens and Great Oaks Landscaping in Novi, including a terrace area, a fabric gazebo and a center section. A large hammock stretches across one part for Kathy to relax.

The plants, meanwhile, are mostly perennials including irises, lady slippers, daylilies and spiderwort. There are some annuals. The yard is mostly shaded so plant selection is important. 

Gardening magazines fit the bill this time of year.

Near the terrace area at the back portion of the yard sits what looks like a meditation area with a large bell, something Kathy wanted. Steven found the perfect bell at the Rock Shop in Plymouth. Nearby is a bench for meditation and a Buddha statue.

"I love it," said Kathy.

Steve Braykovich's zen garden in Pinckney, Michigan on June 12, 2020.

Keeping with the Zen theme, the garden even includes a chouzubachi, a type of wash basin often included in Japanese tea gardens. There is also a Zen waterfall with white and black rocks that represent different elements.

An angel with her arms extended, meanwhile, is a tribute to Kathy's deceased parents. And stained glass butterflies work their way up a nearby tree.

"That's the spirit of our loved ones," said Steven.

Favorite spots in the yard, meanwhile, change with time. For Steven, it's whatever area he worked on last. For Kathy, it has been the fire pit area.

"It's nice and cool and the chairs are super cozy," she said.

And while the couple is in the process of selling their house to move to Georgia where they're having a house built, they have mixed feelings about leaving their beloved garden behind.

"We've had so much fun in this yard," said Kathy. "So many fantastic memories." 

The garden, meanwhile, will never be done.

"We just can't stop ourselves," said Kathy.