How to Build Your Backyard Zen Garden: Weekend DIY

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.

zen rocks

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.”

Zen garden raje

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.

Rock Island

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

Simplicity and mystery

The Seven Guiding Principles of a Zen Garden

Shinzen – Naturalness

Kanso  – Simplicity

Koko – Austerity

Fukinsei – Asymmetry

Yugen – Mystery

Datsuzoku – Magical

Seijaku – Stillness

Zen 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.

Roof catches leaves

It’s great to have a dedicated large space for your garden – but not required. Source

Roof catches cherry blossoms

The roof catches falling blossoms or leaves. The rocks look like islands in the ocean, don’t they? Source

Long view zen garden

You can make your sand ocean as wavy as you like. One of the big keys is simplicity.

Natural is a big part of a zen garden

See how the zen garden flows? And it is so balanced and natural. Source

Tending the Zen Garden

Rake your 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

Difference sizes of zen garden rakes

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).

Pay attention to your rocks

Rocks make a great meditation focus point for your zen garden. Source

Zen garden sand comes in colors

Match your sand and rock color for a stunning look in your zen place.

Colorful zen garden stones

You can use colored rocks in your zen garden for a stunning effect. Source

Modern Designs

Bamboo, cement and water zen garden

Kengo Kuma Architects rendering  of a Zen garden is ultra modern. Source

Modern Zen

A close up – stunning simplicity in the cement, water and bamboo.  Source

River rock design

Modern Zen river rocks represent a river.  Source

Design a river rock pattern

Using rocks as patterns is a modern twist to a Japanese Zen garden. Source

Paving stone path

You can even use paving stones. Use your imagination, within the limits of the seven guiding principles. Source

Traditional Japanese Designs

Japanese Gate

A Japanese gate welcomes the visitor. Source

Courtyard zen

Courtyard garden – you can design your zen wherever you have space.

Quintessential Zen

Mount Koya Zen Garden. Source

Backyard Zen

Red bamboo zen

The red Bamboo is a unique touch to a backyard space. Source

Fu Dog Zen garden

This home has a Japanese style roof and Foo dog sculptures. Source

Mid-century simplicity

Mid-century modern Zen garden. (Zillow)

Backyard zen garden

A little backyard zen goes a long way. Source

Condo Zen Common Areas

A dry Zen garden with a bridge over the gravel that represents the river. Source

Eclectic Zen Gardens

Buddha face zen

This Zen face makes an interesting focal point.  Source

Outdoor bath with zen

A Zen bath tub in the garden. Source

Buddha head seats benches

A forest of eclectic Buddha stools and benches. Source

Meditation Garden

A winding meditation path is pure zen.

Meditating dog

And here’s a simple way to make a quick Zen garden – add a meditating dog. Available at Etsy.

About Joe Hats 177 Articles
Joe Hats is the founder of Joe has been remodeling homes since 1997 when he bought his first fixer-upper. He has built many pieces of indoor and outdoor furniture with his own hands and has every DIY woodworking tool in his possession. Coming from an engineering background, he has designed and built many patio fixture plans. Following his wife's lead, he is also very passionate about home decor and together they keep track of the latest trends. When he is not remodeling or trying a new woodworking tool, he is busy gardening or designing a new outdoor plan.