How To Make A Zen Garden The Traditional Japanese Rock Garden Way
In this tutorial we will look at how to make a Zen garden at home.
There is nothing quite like making a Zen garden (Japanese Rock Garden) to meditate in.
If you want to meditate at home, one of the best places to do it is in a zen garden.
Imagine if you could step out the front door into a Zen rock garden—a beautiful Japanese rock garden where you can unwind, meditate, and ultimately feel utterly serene.
Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Let’s make it happen
By the end of this tutorial you will have a Japanese rock garden at home. And you will have a beautiful meditation space at home (READ: How To Make A Meditation Space At Home)
In this tutorial I will show you how to make a Zen garden
If you love gardening you will get so much out of this tutorial.
Not only will you love the experience of designing and making a Zen garden, but afterwards you will have a stunning spiritual space to relax in.
Zen rock 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 Rock Garden / Japanese Rock Garden?
Zen garden’s are technically Japanese rock gardens.
They 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).
Zen rock gardens / Japanese rock gardens are generally made of these things:
- 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).
The entire point of Zen meditation gardens is in the making.
Seriously. If you want to know the real way how to make a Japanese rock garden, the most important thing is to use the experience for meditation and relaxation.
Just like baking your fave cupcake, the beauty in Japanese Rock Gardens is making ’em.
And sure, if you decide to make a Zen garden outside you can sit and meditate in it too (Read: Zen Meditation).
The Benefits of Rock Garden Landscaping
Below we will look at how to make a Japanese rock garden.
But first you might like to know about all the benefits of rock garden landscaping.
Making a Japanese rock garden relieves stress
When you make 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.
Japanese rock gardens help with meditation
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.
When you make a Japanese rock garden you will train your ind to appreciate three particular kinds of beauty:
- Kanso (simplicity)
- Fukinsei (asymmetry)
- Yugen (sutble grace)
- Read more about these 3 on PresentationZen
Making a Japanese rock garden is highly creative
Making a Zen garden is a really enjoyable creative experience (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 rock garden, you can express your creativity as you find new patterns for the sand or gravel, and new positions for the rocks.
Making a Japanese rock garden is matter of discipline
Making a Zen rock garden is one thing. Maintaining a Zen rock garden is something else
. It 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 rock garden. So how do you do it? Let’s take a look at how to make a Zen garden.
What you will need to make a Zen rock garden
There are a few items you will need when making a Zen rock garden:
- White sand
- 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).
How To Make A Japanese Rock Garden — Designing It
Here are some tips on how to make a Japanese rock garden, starting with the design.
How large to make 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.
How To Make A Japanese Rock Garden That Suits Your Home
Whether indoors or outdoors, your Zen garden should blend in with the rest of the space so that it 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.
Where to make a Zen garden
When it comes to making your own Zen garden, first choice is where to put the thing.
When Zen gardens were originally conceived they were described in the Japanese garden-making text the “Sakuteiki” [get it on AMAZON]. 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”. 
How To Make A Zen Garden
So by now you’re buzzing with excitement for your new Zen garden.
Just one question: how to make a Zen garden…
Here’s what to do
Set the space you’ll be making your own Zen garden in
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
- Mow the lawn low. Go over it repeatedly.
- Cover the lawn with newspaper stacked 12 sheets high. Overlap the edges.
- Cover the top layer of newspapers with black landscape fabric.
- Add a layer of mulch over the fabric. Rake the mulch until it is evenly spread.
- Get rid of any large rocks around the edged.
- Pour gravel or sand on top of the mulch. Spread it evenly with the rake. (see point below)
- Leave for three weeks. Then spread extra gravel or sand on top.
For a small indoor Zen garden:
- Get a topless wooden box (or create one)
- Fill the box with sand or gravel (see point below)
- 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.
Add 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 Japanese 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.
Fill in your Zen rock garden with 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.
Add decorative features to your Japanese rock 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.
Now you’ve made your own Zen garden, time to maintain it
Your Zen garden will be maintained using the rake. This can be used to clear away leaves and other debris.
Use the maintenance of your Japanese rock garden 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.
Now you know how to make a Zen garden. But you could always just buy a desktop Zen-garden.
Sure, it’s great to make a Zen garden. But you don’t have the space or, you know, you just can’t really be bothered.
If that’s you, cheat and buy 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.
Learn more about Zen. Read my guide to the best Zen books.
Leave a comment and remember to subscribe to our newsletter.
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: Your Best Meditation