Creating Your Own Zen Garden

The Japanese Zen garden is a calming space designed to represent a landscape.
The Japanese Zen garden is a calming space designed to represent a landscape.
(Timothy Takemoto/Flickr)

Zen gardens are low maintenance and great to build in a difficult area of your yard. Since Zen gardens are mostly stone and gravel, they are perfect for that dry area in your backyard.

The Japanese Zen garden, also called the Japanese rock garden, is a calming space designed to represent a landscape.

Creating Your Zen Garden

In the old days, Japanese landscapers built the gardens using rocks and boulders to represent land and mountains. They used gravel raked into patterns to create the illusion of water.

These traditional gardens were large, open spaces, but these days they can be any size.

Traditional Zen gardens were large, open spaces, but these days they can be any size.
Traditional Zen gardens are large, open spaces, but these days they can be any size.

What You’ll Need

You’ll need the following materials to create your own Zen garden:

  • Rocks or boulders
  • Gravel or a water feature
  • Bench, statue, or other focal element
  • Zen garden plants
You'll need rocks and boulders for your Zen garden.
You’ll need rocks and boulders for your Zen garden. (Photo: Pamela J. Eisenberg/Flickr)

Designing Your Zen Garden

Once you’ve chosen an area for your garden, clear away any plants, grass, or weeds. Rake the soil. You want it flat and level. If necessary, add edging around the garden to keep grass and weeds at bay.

The next step is to decide where all of the largest features of the garden will go. Figure out the placement of all the elements of your garden.

Once you've chosen an area for your garden, clear away any plants, grass, or weeds.
Once you’ve chosen an area for your garden, clear away any plants, grass, or weeds.
(Photo: Radoslaw Kulupa/Pixabay)

Gravel or Water

If you’re using gravel to give the illusion of water, make sure you lay it in patterns that mimic the movement of water.  

You can add an actual water feature instead of gravel, as well. You don’t need anything fancy. A simple garden fountain will suffice.

If you’re using gravel to give the illusion of water, make sure you lay it in patterns that mimic the movement of water.
If you’re using gravel to give the illusion of water, make sure you lay it in patterns that mimic the movement of water. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 

Plants for Your Garden

Plants are not a necessary feature in a Zen garden. But if you’d like to add a few, you could either plant them right into the ground or just add a few, well-placed potted plants to the area.

Use low, spreading plants instead of upright ones. Bonsai plants, cacti, and succulents would be excellent.

Use low, spreading plants instead of upright ones for your Zen garden.
Use low, spreading plants instead of upright ones for your Zen garden.
(Photo: Chris Favero/Flickr)

Naturalness, Simplicity, and Austerity

Creating your own Zen garden is a great way to reduce stress, improve your focus, and develop a sense of well-being. These beautifully stark spaces appeal to people who like carefully designed settings of raked sand or rocks and precisely clipped shrubs.

In designing your Zen garden, you should remember that they emphasize the principles of naturalness (Shizen), simplicity (Kanso), and austerity (Koko). Your garden should reflect these basic ideas.

Are you planning to build your own Zen garden? The gallery below should give you a spark of inspiration.

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