Borrowing a landscaping technique from Japanese landscaping provides you with a sanctuary for mindful practice, yoga practice or for a beautiful alternative to traditional lawn. Zen gardens used to be a totally dry landscape composed only of rocks and sand. Newer designs have incorporated water, bridges and even lights. The size you choose depends on the land you have available: it can encompass your entire outdoor space, a small area of the patio or just a portion of the backyard.

Above all, you want your Zen space organized and clean, not cluttered. Choose from the following nine elements to create your own personal Japanese style garden.

1. Bridge

These can be made of stone or wood, placed over ponds or gravel paths, or even connect small islands. In the Japanese culture, bridges symbolize a transition from one place to another.

Zen Garden Bridge

2. Island

Islands can be single rocks or land forms built up with rocks and soil. If your space won’t accommodate an actual island, you can symbolize one with large stones sticking up out of your pond.

Island in Pond

3. Flowers or Plants

Blooming, colorful flowers don’t usually find their way into a Zen garden. However, sometimes you’ll see lilies, lotus and iris near the water or shrubs pruned into bonsai trees. Moss growing on logs or stones brings some greenery into the design as well.

Lotus Flower

4. Sand

White sand shows up frequently in this type of landscaping and it can be raked or unraked. By raking the sand into curves, you’re creating ripples like you’d find in bodies of water. It’s best to contain the sand with a low wall or short fence. Artists often tap into their muse while raking the sand.

Zen Garden Sand

5. Stones

A major component of any Zen garden, stones often symbolize mountains, islands, animals or even shrubs. But, you must have an uneven number because nature isn’t balanced. You can partially bury larger rocks into the ground so they appear to be sprouting out of the earth.

Zen Garden Rocks

6. Trees

Bamboo, flowering plum or cherry, Japanese maple, dogwood or even gnarled old pine trees work well in Zen style landscaping. Once planted, these trees should only need watering and occasional fertilizing.

Zen Garden Trees

7. Water

Flowing water is relaxing and calming. Kudos if you already have a pond to build your garden around. Otherwise, dig a pond and add koi fish and lotus blossoms to create the perfect setting for meditating. Or, you can simulate water with sand, rocks and moss.

Koi Pond

8. Waterfall

Water features are said to dispense positive energy. They can fall into ponds directly or cascade over rocks one at a time. Waterfalls are usually partially bordered by tall rocks. You can also imitate a waterfall with rocks in a sand garden.

Zen Garden Waterfall

9. Extras

Use your imagination here. Install stone lamps, statues or lights that highlight your Zen garden at night. You could also buy one of the miniature desktop Zen gardens to rake while relaxing in your own life-size garden.

Stone Lantern


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