Gardening Design Ideas: How To Create a Zen Garden

Outdoor living space with piles of pillows and cushions along with a Buddha statue, foliage, and pebbled metallic garden stool

Could you use a little more relaxation in your life? If so, a Zen garden may be just what you need. After, all Buddhist monks have been using them for centuries. In fact, the Zen gardens that you may be familiar with today showed up in Japan in the 11th century outside of Buddhist temples. They were created to give monks a space to contemplate and meditate on Buddha’s teachings, not to mention that the design and the gardens themselves were supposed to promote peace and harmony in a space. It’s also widely believed that “Ishi-tate-so” (stone-setting priest) monks traveled around Japan to set up Zen gardens. They became a part of the Japanese culture by the 13th century.

At Improvements, we’re showing you how to create a Zen garden. Whether you have a large or small space doesn’t matter. You can create a tranquil outdoor space where you can retreat to after a long workday or whenever you need a break from daily life. Keep reading to learn how to create a Zen garden. Let the relaxation begin!

How To Create a Zen Garden

Casablanca solar LED outdoor lantern, rake with stones, garden bench, Buddha statue, stones, greenery, pillow, boulder, and water fountain

There are two ways to create a Zen garden. One is to do-it-yourself, and the other is to use items such as a garden fountain, patio cushions, furniture, and more. We’re going to show you both options. First, here’s the DIY Zen garden.

DIY Zen Garden

What You Will Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Level
  • Shovel
  • Ground Rake
  • Landscape edging
  • Two-by-fours (optional)
  • Medium to large stones or boulders
  • Plants: low shrubs, moss, or trees
  • Stone or wood bench
  • Buddha statue
  • Lanterns
  • White or beige crushed granite
  • Large pillows or cushions
  • Planters
  • Fountain
  • Sand (optional)
  • Rake with wide-spaced tines (for the sand and crushed granite)
  • Garden tools
  • Hammer
  • Landscaping fabric (optional)

The Steps

  1. Figure out where you’d like to place your Zen garden (preferably away from the noise) and mark the space using a measuring tape.
  2. Dig a 10-by-16-foot rectangle (make sure it’s level) in your backyard. If you prefer not to dig, level the space and place wooden or stone edging on the surface. Most home improvement retailers cut wood to size.
  3. To create an enclosure, line your garden with landscape edging or rectangular rocks. As an alternative, line each side with a two-by-four and hammer each one into the ground.
  4. Using the shovel, mark the desired spots for your Zen garden’s plants, benches, stones, statues, or lanterns. If you use stones, dig holes at least 6-inches deep and the diameter of each stone. Place the stones where you’d like them in your garden.
  5. Dig more than 2-inches for plants with root balls. Center them in their holes, press the soil gently over their roots, and water them immediately. Place additional Zen garden décor in place, including a Buddha statue, meditation bench (place a cushion or pillow on top for comfort), and lanterns.
  6. Pour small pebbles or crushed granite into the rectangle at a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Spread the material evenly with a hoe or the back of the shovel around the elements of your Zen garden. If you used crushed granite, rake ripples into it because it symbolizes the water element in dry Zen landscapes. If you use pebbles, spread them with the hoe as well.
  7. Prune plants to fit the scale of your garden. For instance, trim low shrubs, so they’re compact and symmetrical in shape. If you have trees, for example, maple, remove the lower branches so that the top branches create a canopy over your meditation bench.

Helpful Hints for Building Your Zen Garden

Crushed granite and pebbles usually deter weeds. However, you may want to lay landscaping fabric before filling in your Zen garden. Also, landscaping suppliers can cut edging stones to your specifications and provide you with material calculators to simplify ordering materials. Keep in mind that beach sand doesn’t hold raked waves, so use crushed granite. Finally, get assistance to load and move heavy objects such as benches, boulders, and stones.

Designing Your Zen Garden

Garden bridge with solar light caps, solar lanterns, outdoor living furniture, outdoor curtain, pillows, cushions, and pebbled metallic garden stool

If DIY isn’t your thing, you can use a space in your backyard or on your deck or patio for a Zen garden. For instance, if you have a small space, you could pile on the pillows and cushions. You may also consider placing a few planters around in addition to a Buddha statue, fountain, and lanterns. Keep your Zen garden simple and easy.

If you have a larger space, you can include more elements such as:

  • Buddha statue
  • Large boulder or stones
  • Garden bridge
  • Crushed granite
  • Stone or wood bench
  • Pebbles
  • Low shrubs
  • Moss
  • Trees
  • Curtains
  • Privacy screens (preferably organic – think ivy)
  • Any garden décor that as a zen-like quality.

It’s important to realize that you’ll want to tailor your Zen garden to your lifestyle. If something doesn’t resonate with you, do not incorporate it into. After all, it’s supposed to be a peaceful space where you can experience the body and mind connection. And if you want to take it one step further, you may consider incorporating feng-shui, the Chinese practice of ensuring the proper flow of energy (qi or chi). Basically, you want to make sure you choose the best location, north, south, east, or west, for your Zen garden. You’ll also want to consider colors and the five elements: wood, earth, fire, metal, and water. Although, it may be easier to hire a feng-shui expert who understands the practice.

Keep Calm and Create Your Zen Garden

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Zen gardens are supposed to invoke a sense of peace and tranquility so keep this in mind. After all, the outdoor space will be your sacred spot where you can meditate upon the teachings of Buddha or your spiritual calling. It will also become a place where you meditate and reflect on your life. Before you know it, you will be less consumed by attachments and instead practice the art of non-attachment. Meaning: you’ll no longer allow things or situations to own you or attach to you. Thus, you can start to have a better outlook and hopefully become more peaceful.

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Posted by: Amandah Blackwell

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