Zen garden

YouFollow these steps to make a Japanese-style zen garden.

You can create your own meditative space by making a zen garden in your yard. Some gardeners create a serene expanse in their yard by taking advantage of color theory. If you’re not one who enjoys playing around with colors, you can achieve the same purpose by designing a zen garden.

If you enjoy interpreting the world symbolically and you idolize nature, making a zen garden is for you. If you’re the type of person who opts for low-maintenance landscaping, you should think twice before designing and installing a zen garden.

Zen gardens may look simple and straightforward, but they take a lot of time and effort to maintain. If you’ve decided that a zen garden is for you, read our complete guide to help you get started.

What Is a Zen Garden?

Japan is a mountainous nation comprised of islands. The Japanese environment is awe-inspiring. Thus, the Japanese greatly value the beauty of nature that surrounds them. It’s their appreciation for nature that sparked the creation of zen gardens.

Zen gardens, developed by Buddhist monks in Japan, are often referred to as “miniature landscapes.” People call zen gardens miniature landscapes because their components correspond to certain aspects of nature.

You’ll notice that the white gravel in zen gardens that the Japanese rake to have ripples represents the ocean’s waves. The tall and narrow boulders, on the other hand, represent mountains. The Japanese often think of small and rounded rocks to represent islands.

Plants also play a significant role in zen gardens. The Japanese typically grow green plants around the “islands” to represent vegetation, while architectural plants serve as accents. If you include short trees or shrubs in your design, you’ll need to prune them meticulously.

One of the most notable characteristics of a zen garden is its minimalist nature.  As zen gardens have evolved over many centuries, it is not advisable to aim for a truly authentic design. Instead, you can incorporate modern elements as long as the minimalist feel is still present.

What Is a Zen Garden Used For?

You can use a zen garden as a site for meditation and contemplation. As mentioned earlier, gravel is traditionally used and raked in such a way that it represents the calming flow of water.

Additionally, the Japanese believe that the process of raking patterns into the gravel is soothing and, thus, aids in relaxation and meditation.

If you want to take things a step further, you can add a separate space in your garden dedicated to sitting and meditation. Alternatively, you can build the zen garden right next to a relaxing sitting area. However, all these are optional for a zen garden.

Site Selection and Preparation

To select the perfect site for your zen garden, start by choosing a flat area in your backyard. Then, mark out a rectangular part of it. Note that size can vary. If you have a small yard, a twelve-by-eighteen-foot rectangle may be suitable.

If you’re short on time or energy, you can significantly reduce your workload by settling for a smaller space. If you opt to include plants in your zen garden, take into consideration their sunlight requirements when choosing a location.

Traditionally, a zen garden is a walled-in space. The walls were conducive to meditation. For most modern homeowners, however, building a masonry wall for a meditative space in the backyard is unrealistic. It’s perfectly fine to opt for a lattice fence instead.

What You Need to Make a Zen Garden

The primary components of zen garden design are gravel rocks and water or gravel. Additionally, you may add a statue or other focal point, such as a bench for relaxing and plants. Note, however, that these additional components are entirely optional.

To build a zen garden, you’ll need the following:

  • Boulders or Rocks. As mentioned earlier, large rocks and boulders represent land and mountains. If a small space limits you, rocks and small boulders should suffice.
  • Gravel or Water Feature. Gravel raked in a certain way is used to represent flowing water. However, you can opt for an actual garden water feature. Also, you can use sand instead of gravel. Keep in mind, however, that sand is much lighter than gravel, so it can easily be blown away in the case of strong wind or heavy rain. If tall walls or a roof protect your backyard zen garden from the elements, then using sand will be just fine. However, crushed stone or small pebbles would be a better choice.
  • A bench, Statue, or Other Focal Element (Optional). If you have a large enough garden, you can opt to add a sitting bench, a minimalist statue, or some other focal element. Adding an item of this sort is believed to aid with relaxation and meditation. Note that adding in a focal element is entirely optional.
  • Plants. What is a garden without plants? Well, more traditional Japanese rock gardens don’t have plants at all. If you’re okay with veering a bit further away from authenticity, add plants that will work in the space and location of your zen garden. For example, if your yard is hot, dry, and often exposed to sun, you may opt to incorporate cacti and succulent plants.

Read further on the next page.

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