Hand holding soil

Building a Zen Rock Garden for Classy and Peaceful Outdoors

The iconic Japanese or Zen rock garden features every aspect you wouldn’t find in a typical ‘garden.’ It isn’t a place filled with lush trees, a pond filled with lucky koi fish, colorful flowers, or an ornate gazebo. The unique garden consists of gravel, a sparse scattering of moss or nondescript shrubs, and sand, creating a mini dry garden paradise.

If you want to add this unique Japanese-inspired dry landscape garden, here’s a guide on how you can do it and different designs you can incorporate in your mini piece of paradise at home.

Materials You’ll Need for Making a Japanese Rock Garden

Like with any DIY project at home, it’s best to start by gathering the items you’ll need beforehand for a smoother process. When building a Zen rock garden, the equipment you’ll need are:

  • Bricks, low wooden fence (bamboo), or small rocks to use for the border
  • Landscaping tarp
  • Rocks
  • Sand or gravel
  • Wooden Rake

You can buy these items in your landscape supply stores near you. You can also add a small bench, shrubs, garden lamps, moss, and other elements to showcase your personality.

How to Make a Zen Rock Garden

After gathering your materials, it’s time for you to look and choose a spot in your backyard to see where you want to build the Zen rock garden. While most Japanese rock gardens are rectangular or square, you can determine a unique size and shape, depending on your preference. It’s best to keep your Zen garden small to mimic traditional ones, bringing peace to your mind as much as the bigger ones.

When you’ve chosen a spot, here are the following steps you need to follow to build an authentic Japanese rock garden at home.

  1. Remove all the grass in the area you’ve chosen to build your Japanese rock garden on.
  2. Dig a shallow trench around two to three inches deep around the garden’s border.
  3. Cover the area with your landscaping tarp to prevent stray weeds from growing and emerging from the sand.
  4. Place the edges of the landscaping tap into the trench you dug.
  5. Place the small rocks, bricks, or bamboo over the trench to keep the tarp in place while creating the Zen garden’s border.
  6. Lay the sand, gravel, or both over the whole landscaping tarp and make the surface uniform.
  7. Arrange some rocks on the rock garden, rake the sand, and create a unique ripple or stream design.
  8. Depending on your preference, you can add additional elements in the garden, such as small bushes, moss, or a bench. Your rock garden is now complete!

woman doing some gardening

How to Design a Japanese Rock Garden

If you want to make your Zen garden unique, you can add some elements that the Sakuteiki suggests. It’s an 11th-century Japanese garden design manual instructing landscapers how to create a harmonious and controlled landscape of a traditional dry rock garden. Below are some additional designs you can add.

  • Karetaki is also known as ‘dry waterfall.’ The manual instructs you to arrange stones, gravel, and sand to create a symbolic waterfall minus the water. ;
  • Karesansui or known as rock sculptures is typically the critical design component of any Zen rock garden. These rocks can symbolize an island, mountain, or a warm welcome if you place it next to the garden entrance.

Creating a Zen rock garden can provide a unique feeling of calmness, truly giving you the genuine ‘Zen’ feel or the state of being at peace with your thoughts.

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