The zen garden was originally created in Japan as a way to relax, reduce stress, feel balanced with nature, and meditate. They are also known as Japanese rock gardens because they typically use rock, sand, and very few, if any, plants. These zen garden ideas will help you create your own relaxing zen garden that fits your tastes.
Rake Designs Into the Sand
Although not every zen garden has designs in its sand, it’s actually one of the most important parts of a zen garden. Designs in zen garden sand are meant to represent ripples of water. This is why you’ll usually notice raked circles around large stones in the sand, mimicking the ripples the stone would make if it were dropped into water (source).
You can use a regular garden rake to drag through the sand after you place your stones and other permanent elements into your zen garden. For a traditional zen garden, the overall effect should resemble a flowing river or stream. However, you can get creative and draw whatever relaxing design you choose into the sand to make it more unique to you.
Lay smaller stones in a line, for example, and rake alongside the stones. This will form the illusion of the stones floating down a river.
This video by Pantau Chan demonstrates an eye-catching geometric raking technique you may want to try in your own zen garden:
Go Geometric with Zen Spaces
A good way to bring some unique elements to your zen garden is to block out your space geometrically. Use squares, triangles, or whatever shapes you choose, and line them with stones, wood, short fencing, or bricks. Keep the framing simple by using one shape for the blocks.
Then, choose three or four of the blocks to add in your zen garden elements, like a large rock in one, or three smaller rocks in another. If you want to add in some greenery, choose one or two blocks to add in short, lush shrubbery.
Use contrasting sand colors in a few blocks for a unique look. You can even create different raked sand designs in each block for variety. Just remember that the overall feel should be minimalistic and relaxing. If you get too many designs, colors, and objects added to your geometric design, the results can be too overwhelming for a zen garden.
Make Your Own Concrete Water Fountain
Historically, zen gardens had no water features. Instead, zen garden designers used rocks and sand designs to create an illusion of flowing water (source). However, more modern zen gardeners are adding simple water features for an even more relaxing experience in their gardens.
The video by Lowe’s teaches you how to make a concrete water fountain that will fit right into the aesthetic design of a zen garden, while also keeping its integrity intact. Using concrete and river rock, the neutral color and simple design will give you a quiet water feature that blends into your zen garden.
If you aren’t up for making your own, check your local garden center for a simple, stone fountain that won’t overpower your zen garden. The key is to allow it to complement your garden, rather than be the main focus. A small pond can also work well if you have more room in your budget to spare.
Keep It Simple
The main idea of a zen garden is to provide a tranquil, meditative place in nature. However, it can be tempting to add several big, beautiful rocks or Asian-inspired landscaping elements, decor, and plants to a zen garden. Not only will this hurt your budget, but it will also negate the purpose of your zen garden.
The key is to keep it as simple as possible. Colors should remain neutral, shrubs and flowers aren’t necessary, and you don’t even need to add a garden path. Your zen garden can simply be a small square in a corner of your garden.
Most zen gardens have very few, asymmetrical elements, often in groups of three. This grouping symbolizes the Buddhist trinity (source). So, to create a true zen garden, stick with sand, rock, and one type of greenery, like some moss or a few very similar shrubs. Scaling your garden back can actually make it more relaxing and zen-like at its final result.
Create Seating That Overlooks Your Zen Garden
You likely want a place to enjoy your zen garden, but adding seating within the garden can ruin its overall effect. Instead, opt for creating your zen garden in an area of your yard where you’ll still have room to add some seating near the garden.
If you already have a porch or deck, use it to your advantage. Plan to build your zen garden near it, so you can overlook the garden from your porch.
If not, consider using a secluded place in your yard for your zen garden. Create a tranquil seating area with an outdoor sofa or chairs near the garden. You can cover your seating area with a canopy to create the perfect area for relaxing, reading, and enjoying your garden, even during less-than-perfect weather.
Low on Space? Make a Mini Zen Garden
Urban dwellers, especially, are utilizing their little outdoor space for zen gardens. You don’t need a lot of space for a zen garden. In fact, you can make them as big, or as little, as you’d like, and you can still have the same effect if you utilize your elements well. Some people even create mini zen gardens for their desks to help them focus on work or studying, meditate, or relieve stress (source).
If you have any outdoor space at all, you can create a mini zen garden outdoors. The video above shows several creative ideas for making a zen garden in minimal space, like using a small corner of a patio or a raised planter box to house a zen garden.