Escape the chaos, and create your sanctuary! ‍10 easy & affordable Zen garden ideas to transform your backyard into a haven of peace. Read on to learn how to create a calm and relaxing space in your garden for the body and mind.

Backyard living spaces should be a relaxing space to get away from the everyday. When we lived in our former home, we made our backyard as much of an oasis as we could given the property and space we had.

Since moving, this home has it all, and one of my favorite outdoor living spaces is the backyard zen garden. I never thought I needed a backyard zen garden before but now that we have one? We totally needed one! But the best part is even the smallest of spaces can accommodate one.

Want to enjoy a backyard filled with peace and serenity too? Learn how to create a zen garden with these simple tips.

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zen garden tour with pond in spring

About the Zen Garden

In the traditional sense, my backyard zen garden is not a true zen garden, but it’s pretty zen to me so I’m going with it. And I wish I could take credit for designing it, but it was here when we moved in.

Traditionally, zen gardens (also known as Japanese rock gardens or dry landscape gardens) are typically small, enclosed spaces made with rocks or raked sand, gravel, stone, pebbles, and carefully pruned shrubs.

It is a garden designed to aid with contemplation and relaxation and is mostly comprised of hardscaping without a water feature. To me, a zen garden should have these elements in some form, but also have things that bring you peace and serenity.

Does that mean you have to strictly follow these elements? No, because your zen garden should reflect your personality, preferences, and sense of style.

Small pond garden in the zen garden with japanese maple, sambuca nigra elderberry and blooming azaleas and rhododendrons with garden statue
Zen Garden with Koi Pond

Our Japanese Zen Garden

My backyard zen garden design has a beautiful stone wall with steps that lead to a grassy area with a koi tree sculpture, benches, and specimen shrubs and trees. Two staddle stones flank the stone wall and a few other garden statues as well.

The zen garden has a few different types of landscape rocks that were designed in an aesthetically pleasing way. And I’m sure there are elements of feng shui as this home was designed with that in mind.

We have a small koi pond in our zen garden that makes the space that much better. It’s so relaxing to hear the waterfall and I LOVE sitting out there on the back porch, especially in spring when everything is just starting to bloom.

When we moved in, our pond was empty, so we bought a few smaller koi fish to enjoy and it’s been a real thrill. They are very personable, love to eat, and we named them after each member of our family.

Because I am a plant and flower fanatic, I added containers filled with flowers and plants. Long term, there will be a lot more, but for the last growing season, I just used what I had and potted them up.

view of the zen garden with round stepping stones, container gardens filled with supertunia bubble gum pink petunias bubblegum pink, garden statues, lots of hardscaping and a green garden fence with a stone wall and white railings that lead to the backyard.
mountain laurel in full bloom with pink flowers and garden statue in the backyard zen garden

Japanese Zen Garden Benefits

Since I’m into all things plants and flowers, I never looked into creating a Japanese zen garden space before. Mostly because we didn’t have the extra space for it, but also because it wasn’t my organic aesthetic.

Now that we have one here, it’s interesting to see how much I enjoy having this kind of garden space. I spend a lot of time in the zen garden when I need to take a mental break from the day’s tasks. It’s where Chris and I regroup after a long day. And it’s typically our final stop after doing a wine tour of our property.

If you’ve got some space to play around with, I highly suggest adding a zen garden to your outdoor living space.

The benefits of having a peaceful garden like this include:

  1. Relaxation and stress relief
  2. Improved focus and concentration
  3. Mindfulness and meditation
  4. Aesthetic enjoyment
  5. Connection with nature
  6. Cultural and historical appreciation

But even if you lack space, you can still create a mini zen garden using a planter with some rocks.

The zen garden design with koi fish tree sculpture, round steppin gstones, container gardens filled with pink petunias, bacopa and coleus in new jersey gardening zone 6a

How Do I Build a Zen Garden in My Backyard?

Many Japanese zen gardens are also enclosed by walls. If you don’t have an enclosed garden space, you can create your own using a bamboo screen, fence panel, or lattice fence around your garden, or on at least one side.

Or you can use planters that have small evergreen shrubs or trees to help make a natural wall. And if you enclose the garden completely, add a gate for easy access.

How to Create a Zen Garden

Want to learn how to create your own zen garden?

Although we didn’t design ours here, they are not hard to make. I suggest researching then on the web to see what designs strike your fancy before beginning so you can learn what you like and how to design one.

There are lots of beautiful stone garden ideas out there and you can draw your inspiration from what you see online.

While most zen gardens don’t have a lot of plants and flowers, I’m all about it. So it’s zen to me to have them in this peaceful garden.

Because the backyard was all hardscaping, I added planters and filled them with flowers. When we originally saw this space, I thought I’d move all my houseplants out here but it gets too much sun. So over time, I’ll add more container gardens to really fill in this space.

zen garden ideas with outdoor planters filled with flowers like petunias, bacopa and coleus with colocasia. Stone wall, rocks and staddle stone also featured.
wide angle view of the zen garden with back porch

Supplies Needed to Make Japanese Zen Garden

To make your own zen garden in your backyard, you will need a few supplies:

  1. Sand or gravel: This will be the base of your garden. They’ll help level the ground and will provide a surface for rocks and plants to sit on.
  2. Rocks: Choose a variety of rocks that are interesting and aesthetically pleasing to you. Larger rocks can be used as anchors for the garden, while smaller rocks can be used to fill in gaps and create patterns.
  3. Plants: Zen gardens often feature small, low-maintenance plants such as moss, bamboo, and dwarf conifers.
  4. Rake: A rake is used to create patterns in the sand or gravel, such as ripples or concentric circles.
backyard Zen garden with round concrete pavers, stairs with white railing that leads to container gardens fill with pink supertunia 'bubblegum pink' petunias and the backyard garden with black labrador retriever standing on stone wall with koi tree sculpture in the background
Zen Garden and Backyard Gardens

The landscape rocks used in our garden were a little rough on my dogs’ paws when they’d run up the stairs to access the back lawn.

We found these circular stepping stones in the back woods on our property that the former homeowners used here at one point, but took them out.

So we gathered them up, laid them out in an aesthetically pleasing way, and eventually dug these in so they are level to the ground.

close up of the potted flowers in my container gardens filled with supertunia bubble gum pink petunias, elephant ears, coleus in front of a stone wall on river rock in my japanese zen garden in the outdoor living spaces home tour

Directions for Making a Beautiful Zen Garden

Before starting, design your space. It does not have to be a large garden room. A small space will work just as well and probably cost a lot less.

Find a location in your yard that is flat with good drainage. If it’s not completely flat, you’ll need to level the area.

Next, lay down a layer of sand or gravel and use the rake to create patterns so you know where to lay the different decorative rocks and gravel. You can also do a layer of weed block below the sand and gravel to help keep weeds from popping through.

light purple and white bearded irises in the backyard zen garden by small koi pond with japanese maple and hardscaping

Follow your design and place the rocks in the garden, arranging them in a way that feels harmonious to you.

Finally, add the plants, that will thrive in the climate conditions you have. Check for how much sun the space gets before purchasing plants so you get the right plants for that microclimate.

Once your zen garden is complete, you can use it as a space for meditation, contemplation, or simply to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature.

You may also want to consider adding elements such as a water feature or a bench to enhance the peaceful atmosphere of your garden

Planter with geraniums, coleus, and petunias with elderberry near small koi pond in the zen garden

11 Backyard Ideas for a Zen Garden

Now that we understand what is a traditional zen garden, to me, a zen garden should have the traditional elements in some form, but also have things that bring you peace and serenity.

And so it goes, the minimalist traditional zen garden design has evolved into something more. More homeowners want small ponds, fish, flowers, and the soothing sounds of a waterfall too.

But do you need to incorporate all that? No. However, you can pull ideas to make your backyard your own personal zen garden.

view from the back porch of the small koi pond in the zen garden
view of the back porch seating area and deck with rounded shape in my outdoor living spaces home tour

Here are some Japanese garden design ideas to get you started.

  1. Rock and sand garden
  2. Raked gravel garden
  3. Dry landscape garden
  4. Moss garden
  5. Bamboo garden
  6. Stone lanterns and basins
  7. Koi pond
  8. Wooden bridge and walkways
  9. Pagoda or teahouse
  10. Tended trees and shrubs.
  11. Container gardens

And by the way, if you don’t have room to add a small pond and want one, check out these water feature ideas that are perfect for any size space.

backyard zen garden koi pond in full bloom

Japanese Rock Garden Planting Tip

As an aside, if you do add plants and flowers, keep in mind that the roots will cook underneath rocks in the summer, especially if it gets a lot of sun. We had a small beautiful tree that succumbed last summer from excessive heat and drought.

It was really sad to lose it too because the growing habit was quite beautiful and it added a lot of texture to the space.

If you want to plant directly in the ground, I suggest keeping landscape rocks off the base of the plant spanning its width to keep the roots from cooking.

monstera delciiosa by the koi pond

How to Create a Mini Zen Garden in Small Spaces

If you want to keep things budget-friendly or don’t have a backyard or a large outdoor space, you can still create a small zen garden in your home. Here’s how:

  1. Choose a container: Look for a shallow container that is large enough to accommodate your desired garden elements. A shallow tray, dish, or even a shallow box can be used.
  2. Fill the container with sand or gravel: Fill the container with sand or gravel, leaving enough space for other elements.
  3. Add rocks and stones: Arrange rocks and stones in the sand or gravel in a way that is pleasing to you. You can create patterns or simply place them in a random arrangement.
  4. Add plants: Small succulent plants, moss, or miniature bamboo are good choices for a small zen garden. Choose plants that will thrive in the conditions of your container and that will not grow too large.
  5. Add other elements: Consider adding elements such as a small fountain, a statue, or a candle to enhance the atmosphere of your garden.
  6. Use a rake: A small rake, such as a desk or table rake, can be used to create patterns in the sand or gravel.

A small zen garden can be an attractive and calming addition to any room in your home and is a great way to bring the peacefulness of nature into your living space.

backyard Zen garden with hellebores and bleeding hearts with japanese maple -10 shade loving plants that bloom
The Zen Garden in Spring

More Budget-Friendly Zen Garden Ideas

Creating a zen garden on a budget is possible. Here are some tips and suggestions that can help you create your own zen garden without breaking the bank.

  • Create the garden yourself and don’t hire a landscaper to help you. This is more work for you but you can save a lot of money doing it yourself.
  • Design a small container garden with zen garden ideas. This will keep your project smaller scale in both size, scope, and price.
  • Look for deals on materials. Shop around. Check out Facebook Marketplace or the Habitat for Humanity Restore for materials.
the japanese zen garden small pond with staddle stone, japanese maple and daffodils in early spring

Watch It on Bricks ‘n Blooms TV

Want to learn more about my zen garden? Come see it in real-time in this YouTube video. The backyard zen garden is planted with container gardens with different coleus plant varieties, geraniums, lemongrass, superwave petunias colocasia, sweet potato vines, bacopa, euphorbia, and calibrachoa.

The elderberry and rhododendrons are blooming now and it’s so cool to see how quickly this garden is changing! The zen garden gets part sun/part shade so we’ll see how my container plants do as the season progresses. I originally wanted to make deconstructed planters but wound up tucking in a few different plants in each container garden.

I just couldn’t help myself. LOL! Wait until you see how pretty they look in the backyard zen garden!

pond in the zen garden in fall

Shop for Water Features

Want to add a little zen to your backyard? There are water features that will accommodate even the smallest of living spaces. Check out these water feature ideas.

click here to shop for water features for a zen garden in your backyard with photo of japanese maple, daffodils and small pond with waterfall

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More Zen Garden Ideas

Would you add a zen garden to your outdoor living spaces? I would love to know more in the comments below.

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If you prefer to binge-watch Bricks ’n Blooms on TV, we go more in-depth with tours and posts on my YouTube channel. Would love to hang out with you there!

zen garden ideas with koi pond at night
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Garden Supplies I Use

I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

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Stacy Ling

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I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as finding ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.

Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.

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  1. I say this all the time, but you have done the most amazing job creating a new zen garden Stacy. I am so glad you bought this property. It was truly meant to be. Can’t wait to visit someday.

  2. Stacy, your back yard is beautiful and relaxing. The sound of the birds chirping and the water bubbling has to be very zen. My yard is a work in progress. My water feature is not working out where I have it. It’s got to get move this spring to function better for me. Thank you for bring us great inspiration.