21+ Beautiful Zen Garden Ideas (How to Build & Landscaping Ideas)

Marci Swank

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Zen garden Ideas – The Japanese rock garden or often called Zen garden is a famous type of garden from Japan. Zen garden history is started when Zen Buddhist monks from Japan created the first Zen gardens to help in meditation. Later, the monks use Zen gardens to teach Zen principles and concepts. The principles are simplicity, naturalness, and austerity.

Compared to other types of garden, Zen garden is known for its minimalism. Nowadays, for some people, Zen gardens can be a great way to heal themselves from stress, improve their focus, and develop their sense of well-being.

Zen gardens’ appearance doesn’t look like most gardens that are full of plants, flowers, and dominated by natural green color. Zen gardens only use rocks, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and sand. Altogether, those materials are used to represent the essence of nature.

Through this article, we will explain what the Zen garden is, how to build one, and provide some Zen garden design ideas.

  • What is a Zen Garden ?
  • How to Build a Zen Garden
  • Tips in Creating Zen Garden
  • Zen Garden Ideas & Pictures
  • Outdoor Zen Garden Ideas
  • Small Zen Garden
  • Backyard Zen Garden
  • Small Japanese Gardens
  • Small Japanese Garden Plants
  • Zen Garden Mini
  • Modern Zen Garden Design
  • Indoor Zen Garden
  • Mini Zen Garden with Waterfall


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What is a Zen Garden ?

what is zen garden

In the 14th century, the first Zen gardens appeared in Japan. Zen garden can be found in many areas of Japan and recently in other parts of the world where the Japanese décor is adopted. As we said earlier, Zen gardens usually are only formed by simple elements to represent a mini landscape. There is a variety of Zen gardens based on the materials used. Some of them have little vegetation such as moss and bushes; others have no vegetation at all.

You don’t need a lot of space and materials to build a Zen garden. One of the important things to notice is that the Zen garden idea should be quiet or enclosed. This is important for the garden so that it will not be disturbed by pets or animals. The Zen garden will cause stress instead if its environment is disturbed.

Read also: Raised Bed Garden Ideas & Garden Bench Picture Ideas

How to Build a Zen Garden – Tips in Creating Zen Garden

Zen gardens are known for their minimalism. But, that doesn’t mean we need a minimum amount of effort to build one that is visually appealing. Visual is one of the most important parts of creating a Zen garden since the purpose of zen gardens is to clear the mind of the visitors and also the gardener. It will be a talking point of people when they look something out of the ordinary in your house. Hence, it needs enough amount of effort to look great.

Since Zen gardens are created for meditation and contemplation, you could also add a space in the garden to sit and meditate. For the more detailed explanation on how to create one, in this part of the article we will guide you to create your Zen garden step by step.

1. Determine the Size

outdoor zen garden ideas

Size is an important thing to consider before creating a Zen garden. Zen gardens were originally built in palaces, courtyards, and other large outdoor spaces. But nowadays, it can be in any size from a backyard to a mini Zen garden on your desk.

One thing to consider when determining the size is that the gardens should be easily viewed by you or other people. The place to view the gardens should also be comfortable. Therefore, the gardens can maintain its function, to help people to relax.

2. A lot of Sand

zen garden picture landscape

Sand is commonly used in Zen gardens to represent water. In another case, people also use gravel to do the job. The only difference is that sand has very lightweight. So, it can be blown easily by wind. Other alternatives are crushed stone or small pebbles.

If you prefer sand over others, please make sure beforehand that the area of the Zen garden is well protected. Otherwise, the sand will make the Zen garden you created messy and frustrating instead. After that, make sure the sand is enough based on the size of the Zen garden you determined before.

Read also: Fairy Garden Ideas & Plans & Memorial Garden Design Ideas 

3. Rake the Sand

japanese zen garden ideas

Most Zen gardens have raked sands. It’s done to represent water ripples and flows. Raking the sands needs your creativity. You can rake the sand linearly or circularly. The best thing about the dry landscape of Zen gardens is that you can change the look anytime you want based on your mood and creativity.

If you want to make the raked sand maintain its shape for a long time, you can rake it in three to four inches deep. Also, you can add some water to create an optimum effect.

4. Rock and Boulders

zen garden landscaping ideas

Rocks and boulders can be added to the Zen gardens to accentuate the Zen look. They represent land and mountains in traditional Zen design. But, you need to be careful when placing them. Don’t add too many rocks and boulders; otherwise, the garden will look crowded and cluttered. Also, arrange them neatly and off-center to create the Zen look.

Another important thing to consider, choose the rocks and boulders that fit the size of your Zen garden. If your Zen garden is small, choose small rocks and small boulders.

5. Bench, Statue or other Zen Element

small zen garden photos

Not all Zen gardens can implement this. It’s not necessary unless your Zen garden is large enough to contain a bench, a statue, and other elements of a Zen garden. You need to add one if you need a place to sit and meditate in your Zen garden. Small Zen garden design doesn’t usually have a bench or a statue because people usually enjoy the view from the outside of the gardens. So, this is optional.

6. Zen Plants

small zen garden ideas

This is also an optional feature to add because the traditional Zen gardens don’t have plants. But, if you think your Zen gardens will look much better with plants you can add them. You could either plant it right into the ground or add potted plants in your garden, considering most of Zen gardens have dry soil. Also, you need to determine the right place to put your plants and make sure they have enough sunlight to grow healthily.

7. Water Feature

small japanese gardens

For a lot of people, water gives positive energy. That’s why some people have an aquarium in their home. Not all Zen gardens are dry. Some people would add water features or even add a small pond in them. You can also add a small water fountain in them. You just need to make sure it fits the space well.

8. Structure

small japanese garden design ideas

Some people would go over the boundaries to make their Zen gardens as great as possible. You surely need a large space to add structures such as pagoda, gazebo, or even a bridge in your Zen garden. As long as the Zen garden still serves its purpose, to be a place for people to reflect and contemplate, adding structures in them is not a bad idea.

Read also: Garden Shed Ideas Tips & Garden Pond Design Ideas

Zen Garden Ideas & Pictures

small japanese garden design ideas

After knowing how to create a Zen garden yourself, now you need to think of the style that you want to adopt for your Zen garden. We have gathered fifteen Zen garden Ideas for you to choose from.

1. Outdoor Zen Garden Ideas

outdoor zen garden ideas
Photo by LandCrafters, Inc.

Zen gardens can be indoor and outdoor. For outdoor Zen gardens like this, it might be more flexible than the indoor ones. Because, with outdoor Zen gardens, the possibility of the shape and size of the Zen garden area is much wider. You can even expand the garden if you want to. One thing to keep in mind, you might need to take good care of this outdoor Zen garden because rain, wind, or animals could easily damage your garden.

2. Small Zen Garden

backyard zen garden designs
Photo by Garden Mentors.

Small indoor Zen garden like this one will need lower maintenance than the ones outdoor. A little bit of moss, small plants, and pebbles will emphasize the natural vibe inside your house. This will be a perfect spot for contemplating whenever you are tired of your activities or work. Also, this will be a nice place to sit, relax, and maybe talk with your family members without distractions of electronics or gadgets.

3. Backyard Zen Garden

zen garden picture landscape
Photo by Katherine Roper Landscape & Garden Design.

Zen garden can also be used to make your backyard more interesting. Additionally, you can use your Zen garden as a walking path like this. Simply put pebbles and arrange them like a walking path, and place small plants beside them. By doing this, you will love staying in your backyard like never before. Moreover, a few benches and a small water fountain could make the backyard more comfortable.

4. Small Japanese Gardens

japanese zen garden ideas
Photo by NOD GARDEN.

You can adopt this style if the area of your backyard is not too big. The bamboo wall can protect the garden from the wind but also accentuate the natural environment of the backyard. The small water feature, the little pond, and the pebbles collaborate to spread positive energy. The small plants around the garden can calm the garden if the weather becomes too hot during the day.

5. Small Japanese Garden Plants

how to build a zen garden
Photo by Bio Friendly Gardens

If you love Japanese style so much, you can make your Zen garden even more Japanese by adding a cherry blossom tree in it. Your Zen garden will look much more beautiful when the Spring comes. And don’t forget to add a bench to enjoy the view. Lastly, make sure that the land below the cherry blossom tree is flat cement so when the flowers fall you could easily clean it.

6. Zen Garden Mini

zen garden landscaping ideas
Photo by Design Brouelette.

This Zen garden might need a bigger backyard area to adopt. The style is made to represent mountains and rivers. The big rocks placed on the sand represent the mountain. Meanwhile, the raked sands around it represent water ripples of rivers. The good thing is that a watering system is not necessary for this dry landscape.

7. Modern Zen Garden Design

small zen garden ideas
Photo by Acacia Joinery Pty Ltd.

This Zen garden combines modern design and minimalism. Despite the large area that it needs, it is the perfect choice for people who adores simplicity. It’s semi indoor, so it’s protected better from the outside. Moreover, it’s easy to build. You just need a lot of sand, a few boulders, and a small pruned tree.

8. Indoor Zen Garden

small zen garden photos
Photo by Manias Associates Building Designers.

A small Zen garden design protected by glass windows inside your house is a great idea too. You can go and relax in there without worrying about the outside weather. it is easier to add a water feature in it. All you need are gravels, a few bamboo sticks, a small bench, and a small plant, and then you’re good to go.

9. Mini Zen Garden with Waterfall

small japanese gardens
Photo by ZEN Associates, Inc.

This one is a grand design. If you want to go all out to create a natural landscape in your backyard, this might be it. A small waterfall in your house would be a nice sight to see whenever you’re feeling tired. It’s like going to the mountains without going anywhere!

10. Zen Garden Patterns

small japanese garden design ideas
Photo by Daryl Toby – AguaFina Gardens International.

Historical legacy is an interesting topic for some people. If you want to make a part of your house looks like an ancient structure or ruins from the past, this is the best Zen garden idea we found. It’s so easy to create; you just need a few big old rocks and boulders and some gravels and sand.

11. Asian Landscape

backyard japanese garden ideas

This outdoor Zen garden is so simple and minimalist. It will go well with most home designs. It doesn’t need a lot of materials to build. Sands, pruned trees, bushes, and a few boulders are all it needs.

12.  Herb & Vegetable Zen Garden

backyard zen garden ideas
Photo by sustainable garden design perth.

This Zen garden idea is best for people who love to have a lot of colors and a lot of natural elements. You might need more effort to build this one, but the result will never disappoint the effort, right? You just need a variety of herb and vegetable plants, a lot of river stones, and some creativity involved.

13.  Japanese Backyard

small japanese garden plants
Photo by Design Brouelette.

Simplicity is the point of this Zen garden. Sometimes people have a large backyard, but they only need a space to breathe and relax without going into all sort of trouble designing the garden. This Zen garden is designed to create a calm and inspirational feeling.

14. Succulent Zen garden

small japanese gardens designs
Photo by Studio H Landscape Architecture.

This Zen garden might be the perfect choice for people who love the contemporary look and elegant vibe. There’s a wide variety of plants, lighting, and a mini water fountain that emphasize the expensive design.

15. Zen Garden Statue

building a small japanese garden
Photo by Avalon Northwest Landscape, LLC.

Concise and simple is the idea of this Zen garden. It looks like a small shrine. You don’t need a large backyard to create this one. A statue, some plants, and a few concrete bricks are all you need!

Read also: 50 Succulent Varieties & Rock Garden Design Ideas


In summary, Zen gardens might not be a necessary thing to add to your house. But, if you want to add a special spot in your house, this can be it. Because there’s a lot of positive things from Zen gardens. It might heal your stress, beautify your home, and give your house a few natural elements.  Therefore, adding a Zen garden in your house is not a bad idea. We hope this article helps you decide or maybe gives you inspiration on how to design your dream house.

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