Zen Garden Tutorial–Design Your Own Japanese Rock Garden

Imagine if you could step out the front door into a Zen garden—a beautiful relaxing garden where you can unwind, meditate, and ultimately feel utterly serene.

In this tutorial I will show you how to design and build a Zen garden where you will feel relaxed and restored.

If you love gardening you will get so much out of this tutorial.  Not only will you love the experience of designing and creating your own Zen garden, but afterwards you will have a stunning spiritual space to relax in.

Zen gardens are perfect for relaxation, and many of THE DAILY MEDITATION’s readers love to create them as part of a home meditation retreat.

What is a Zen Garden?

Zen garden’s are a Japanese style of landscaping that aims to produce the most relaxing space possible. It creates a wonderful energy, much as Feng Shui does (Read: Feng Shui Tutorial).

A Zen garden (otherwise called a Japanese Rock Garden, “dry landscape” or “karesansui”).

They’re made of the following:

  • Bushes
  • Pruned trees
  • Raked gravel or sand
  • Water features

 Zen gardens are actually quite small. In fact, you can even get indoor desktop-Zen gardens (see below).

These gardens are created not to be sat in but rather to be observed from the outside. They are purposefully built to provide something to meditate on. (Read: Zen Meditation).


The Benefits of Zen Gardens

You may have heard that there are 100+ benefits of meditation.

Adding a Zen garden to your home will take your meditative practice even further.

There are 5 great benefits of Zen gardens:

Stress relief

When you have a Zen garden you can meditate on the raking of the sand or gravel. This is a deeply relaxing meditation. It relieves stress. The repetitive movement calms the mind, help you to find inner peace.


I previously shared the top 31 meditation techniques.

Another fantastic meditation technique is sitting and observing a Zen garden, which is precisely what these gardens were originally designed for.

Appreciation of beauty

One of the best ways to be happy in life is to develop an appreciation for the beauty all around us.

Zen gardens train the mind to appreciate three kinds of beauty:

  • Kanso (simplicity)
  • Fukinsei (asymmetry)
  • Yugen (sutble grace)



Zen gardens are a great way to get creative (see our guide to yoga and meditation for creativity for more ideas).

Whether you have a small desktop Zen garden or a full-size outdoor Zen garden, you can express your creativity as you find new patterns for the sand or gravel, and new positions for the rocks.


Maintaining a Zen garden takes discipline and patience. This is especially true If you have an outdoor Zen garden made of sand—in which case the sand will move dependent on weather conditions and you will have to be diligent in maintaining the correct patterns.


There’s tons of reasons to make a Zen garden. So how do you do it? Let’s take a  look.



What you will need to make your Zen garden

There are a few items you will need when making your Zen garden:

  • White sand
  • Rocks
  • A special rake. Zen rakes have dowel-like rods. These are used to make impressions in the sand. Using the rake you can smooth the sand with one side and make swirling patterns with the other.
  • Perhaps a water feature
  • Bushes or plants
  • Buddha statue (take a look at my selections of the best Buddha statues to buy. They’ll look beautiful in your garden).



Planning your Zen garden

Here are some things to bear in mind when designing your zen garden


Dependent on the space you have dedicated to it, your zen garden may be big or small.

There are advantage of both:

You can put a small Zen garden in your home to meditate on indoors.

An outdoor Zen garden offers a more immerse experience, plus, you can do  Zen Walking Mediation in it.


Consider your home / garden

Whether indoors or outdoors, your Zen garden should blend in with the rest of the space so that I looks natural.  You want it to look as though your garden is flowing from the Zen garden to the rest of the garden or house. This will help you to feel a sense of oneness when you meditate on it.


Placement of your Zen garden

The placement of the garden is important too.

When Zen gardens were originally conceived they were described in the Japanese garden-making text the “Sakuteiki”.  The book states that “in a space where there is neither a lake or a stream, one can put in place what is called a kare-sansui, or dry landscape”.  [1]



Making Your Zen Garden

Getting the space set

Whether your Zen garden is outside or inside you will want to get the space set ready for the sand and rocks.

If the Zen garden is outdoors this will take plenty of work because you will need to remove the grass and dig up the dirt to create the space for the sand and rocks to go in. This is the same process as when you convert a grass garden to gravel in a more traditional way.

For an outdoor Zen garden

  1. Mow the lawn low. Go over it repeatedly.
  2. Cover the lawn with newspaper stacked 12 sheets high. Overlap the edges.
  3. Cover the top layer of newspapers with black landscape fabric.
  4. Add a layer of mulch over the fabric. Rake the mulch until it is evenly spread.
  5. Get rid of any large rocks around the edged.
  6. Pour gravel or sand on top of the mulch. Spread it evenly with the rake. (see point below)
  7. Leave for three weeks. Then spread extra gravel or sand on top.
How to build a zen garden.

For a small indoor Zen garden:

  1. Get a topless wooden box (or create one)
  2. Fill the box with sand or gravel (see point below)
  3. Spread the sand / gravel evenly


You now have the basic space filled with sand or gravel. That’s the hardest part done. The rest is fun.


Adding the rocks to your Japanese Rock Garden

One of the most important parts of a Zen garden is the placement of the rocks. After all, Zen gardens do come from the tradition of Japanese Rock Gardens.

The Sakuteiki text described in detail very specific ways to set the rocks. Not only that, the text said that an ill-fate would befall people who set the rocks in a rock garden incorrectly.

Here are the most important tips for setting the rocks in a rock garden:

  • The best-looking side of the rock should always be facing the viewer.
  • There should be more horizontal stones than vertical stones.
  • Do not place rocks in straight lines.
  • Use groups one to three rocks.
  • Use rocks of different colours, shapes and sizes.
  • Any rock you cannot find a place for, position randomly. This adds spontaneity.


Adding sand and gravel

Follow these rules when adding sand or gravel

  • Today, most people choose to use gravel instead of sand because it holds its position longer—especially in an outdoor Zen garden. This is less important with an indoor Zen garden.
  • When raking the gravel, meditate. The process of adding the gravel is about the mind as much as the actual garden. Zen meditators use the term “Samon” and “Hokime” to describe this act of meditative raking.
  • Use swirling patterns to represent water.

Adding decorative features to your Zen garden

When you add stones, water features and other decorative items to a Zen garden the aim is to do what Shakespeare said and “Hold a mirror up to nature”.

The best options for decorations are water features, shrubs, plants, moss, and black stone.


Maintaining your Zen Garden

Your Zen garden will be maintained using the rake. This can be used to clear away leaves and other debris.

Use garden maintenance as an opportunity for meditation.

Love your garden and enjoy its upkeep. This is a sacred spiritual space that you are designing for yourself. It should be created and maintained with love and affection.


Alternatively, get a desktop Zen-garden.

Desktop Zen gardens are a much smaller Japanese Rock Garden for your office or home.

With a desktop Zen garden you can take breaks while you work and meditate on the beauty of the garden.

My favorite desktop Zen garden is Painspiration’s Stacking Stones Kit. And It makes for a wonderful gift for Buddhists.

desktop zen garden





Now you’ve got a meditation space outside, why not create a meditation room ?

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About Paul Martin Harrison 495 Articles
Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book Journey To The Buddha Within You.

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