Wondering how to build your Backyard Zen garden? It’s really not that difficult. You just need to pay attention to a couple of very simple principles in order to have your very own Zen space. But first, what exactly is Zen?
Zen (noun): a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition.
That’s the official definition. Then, there is the Urban Dictionary definition:
“One way to think of zen is this: a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”
It’s all still very Buddhist. It’s here and now, its shedding “ego”… and it’s a great design for your backyard. Think of it as your quiet space, your escape from reality – you can even use it as your meditation area. Plus, what a conversation piece. Source
Where do I start? Design.
You start by designing your garden. There are a few rules. There are actually very serious rules. A Zen garden should promote naturalness (Shizen), simplicity (Kanso) and austerity (Koko). On a visual level, Zen gardening is all about precision and Balance. Less is More. If an old English garden or a wildflower meadow is your cup of tea – you won’t like this garden, trust me.
Rocks symbolize mountains, while raked gravel or sand suggest ripples on the water. You may incorporate actual water features but more often than not, Zen gardens are dry. There are never flowers – there can be grasses and plants (bamboo comes to mind) and select trees (Ornamental Cherry, Japanese Maple), shorter trees that can be trimmed with canopy tops. Bonzai are ideal. Source
The Seven Guiding Principles of a Zen Garden
Shinzen – Naturalness
Kanso – Simplicity
Koko – Austerity
Fukinsei – Asymmetry
Yugen – Mystery
Datsuzoku – Magical
Seijaku – Stillness
Next up: Location
The Zen garden must be quiet and must promote the seven guiding principles above. If you create your garden near coniferous trees – you’ll be picking up leaves all fall. In the case below, a roof does a lot of the leaf catching.
It’s great to have a dedicated large space for your garden – but not required. Source
The roof catches falling blossoms or leaves. The rocks look like islands in the ocean, don’t they? Source
You can make your sand ocean as wavy as you like. One of the big keys is simplicity.
See how the zen garden flows? And it is so balanced and natural. Source
Tending the Zen Garden
Raking your Zen garden is a form of mediation. Other than that, they don’t take much maintenance. Part of the simplicity. Source
You’ll need to buy a full size Zen garden rake if you want to use sand or finely crushed stone to represent water.
Rocking Your Zen Garden
Aside from the natural rocks that represent mountains, you can also build a meditation tower of rocks. Or you could use colorful rocks for your pathways. Just try to stick to the basic principles (don’t get too fancy).
Rocks make a great meditation focus point for your zen garden. Source
Match your sand and rock color for a stunning look in your zen place.
You can use colored rocks in your zen garden for a stunning effect. Source
Kengo Kuma Architects rendering of a Zen garden is ultra modern. Source
A close up – stunning simplicity in the cement, water and bamboo. Source
Modern Zen river rocks represent a river. Source
Using rocks as patterns is a modern twist to a Japanese Zen garden. Source
You can even use paving stones. Use your imagination, within the limits of the seven guiding principles. Source
Traditional Japanese Designs
A Japanese gate welcomes the visitor. Source
Courtyard garden – you can design your zen wherever you have space.
Mount Koya Zen Garden. Source
The red Bamboo is a unique touch to a backyard space. Source
This home has a Japanese style roof and Foo dog sculptures. Source
Mid-century modern Zen garden. (Zillow)
A little backyard zen goes a long way. Source
A dry Zen garden with a bridge over the gravel that represents the river. Source
Eclectic Zen Gardens
This Zen face makes an interesting focal point. Source
A Zen bath tub in the garden. Source
A forest of eclectic Buddha stools and benches. Source
A winding meditation path is pure zen.
And here’s a simple way to make a quick Zen garden – add a meditating dog. Available at Etsy.