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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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.
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.
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:
- Relaxation and stress relief
- Improved focus and concentration
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Aesthetic enjoyment
- Connection with nature
- Cultural and historical appreciation
But even if you lack space, you can still create a mini zen garden using a planter with some rocks.
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.
Supplies Needed to Make Japanese Zen Garden
To make your own zen garden in your backyard, you will need a few supplies:
- 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.
- 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.
- Plants: Zen gardens often feature small, low-maintenance plants such as moss, bamboo, and dwarf conifers.
- Rake: A rake is used to create patterns in the sand or gravel, such as ripples or concentric circles.
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.
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.
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
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.
Here are some Japanese garden design ideas to get you started.
- Rock and sand garden
- Raked gravel garden
- Dry landscape garden
- Moss garden
- Bamboo garden
- Stone lanterns and basins
- Koi pond
- Wooden bridge and walkways
- Pagoda or teahouse
- Tended trees and shrubs.
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Fill the container with sand or gravel: Fill the container with sand or gravel, leaving enough space for other elements.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add other elements: Consider adding elements such as a small fountain, a statue, or a candle to enhance the atmosphere of your garden.
- 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.
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.
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!
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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!
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Garden Supplies I Use
- I like to use a good-quality garden soil, compost, and perlite when planting.
- I have used this deer repellent with great success. But now, I’m all about this deer repellent that is systemic instead of topical. This means the plant takes it in as opposed to it just smelling bad.
- This is my favorite hand-weeding tool. You can use to get underneath roots, loosen soil, and it cuts down on the weeding time because you work much faster.
- But I also love this long, stand-up weeding tool to really get around roses from afar.
- I like to use THIS ORGANIC FERTILIZER for roses because the blooms are more prolific and it’s organic.
- You need a sharp set of pruners when working with plants and flowers. I buy a few so I can stash them around.
- Where pest and disease problems are concerned, I generally use this insecticidal soap or neem oil to help control infestations depending on the issue.
- This is my favorite set-and-forget slow-release fertilizer for houseplants, annuals, and container gardens.
- Whenever I stake my peonies or other plants, I generally use these grow-through garden supports because they work really well and keep the blooms upright.
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Enjoy a beautiful day! xo
Want to learn more about me?
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.