Zen garden design ideas, inspiration & pictures

What is a Zen garden?

Zen gardens were first created at Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Japan, during the Muromachi period (a division of Japanese history from around 1336 to 1573). This outdoor space is a neat arrangement of natural elements (usually consisting of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes) artistically combined on a landscape mostly made out of gravel or sand.

Although a Zen garden is relatively small, it is meant to be seen, whether one is inside the house or outside in the yard, as it is intended to imitate the intimate essence of nature and serve as an aid to meditation.

Zen gardens usually go hand in hand with Feng Shui, an ancient Chinese practice/art focusing on enhancing harmony in one’s life via one’s surroundings at home. Feng Shui teaches us that if a place (whether it’s a home, garden, office or anywhere else) is arranged according to certain guidelines, it can improve prosperity, peace and personal well-being.

Creating your own Zen garden

Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort, or even a seasoned gardener/landscape architect, to create your very own Zen space in your yard. Here’s how:

·         Opt for a quiet spot in your yard. Create a border using pebbles, rocks or wood (a defined edge is vital to help keep the sand in place). Clear the area of any existing vegetation.

·         Place your rocks/stones (which symbolise islands or mountains), which are mostly light or dark grey with a weathered appearance. Dig a shallow hole in which you can ‘plant’ the larger rocks to give the impression of rocks naturally sinking into the ground. Place them either on their own or together in groups of no more than three.

·         Although any Zen garden consists mainly of sand and stone (with a muted colour scheme), you may incorporate other elements like a bridge, pathway, or even wooden/stone (not metal) lanterns, as long as every aspect has meaning and the overall effect is one of harmony. Flowers are not common in Zen gardens, so rather include pruned evergreen shrubs if you want to include plants.

·         It can be difficult to maintain fine sand, especially in windy areas. Crushed granite, gravel or small pebbles can work better. Use darker sand or gravel in a very sunny area to avoid too much glare. Rake the sand into wavy lines or ripples around your other elements (these are meant to imitate the ripples of a large body of water, like a river or the ocean). Although the sand/gravel mustn’t be too deep, it must seem as if the other elements are nearly submerged in it.

·         Maintenance is crucial, but this is the fun part, as you can keep changing the pattern and layout. Just keep thinking of clean, flowing lines and a balanced environment with neat elements, and the results are sure to be correct.

The materials to use in your Zen garden

There are quite a few elements to include in a Zen garden to enhance its tranquil appearance. Choose some, but not all, of the following:

·         Natural wood (such as the bridges, which represent the transition from one life/world stage to the next)

·         Wind chimes

·         Natural grasses like bamboo

·         Glazed ceramics to help reflect positive vibes

·         Stone sculptures (fish are excellent to help enhance the idea that the sand/gravel is actually water)

·         Mirrored surfaces can add a striking effect.

Note that no synthetic materials should be placed in a Zen garden, as they are believed to drain the space of all positive vibes.

The plants to include in your Zen garden

Trees, plants or moss may be used sparingly to convey a sense of tranquillity. Pine trees are most often used by the Japanese, as they are symbolic of longevity.

Should you wish to include more greenery or flowers in your Zen garden, you can opt for bamboo, peony, orchids, chrysanthemums, irises, lilies, daffodils, or grasses here and there to add some character and colour, as long as they don’t dominate the garden.

Maintaining your Zen garden

·         Keep it free of pets and animals, as waste will negatively impact on the positive energy.

·         Regular weeding is vital to maintain a clean and calm look.

·         Keep the area free of any clutter such as gardening tools, rubbish, etc.

·         Be consistent with your watering.

·         Remember to fertilise the flowerbeds regularly

·         Rake the sand/gravel frequently to ensure a neat and calm appearance.

Creating an indoor Zen garden

It is certainly possible to design a Zen garden indoors as well, and not only in homes. Offices and shopping malls tend to lean more towards rock/Zen gardens these days due to their calming nature. And don’t forget how popular mini Zen gardens (the kind that a lot of people buy in shops and keep on their desks or bedside tables) are!

The most important elements you’ll require are sand and rocks. Then do the following:

·         Fill the area/container with the sand (white sand is more appealing).

·         Add in a few decorative elements like small stones and rocks. There should be enough space in the sand left for raking and drawing designs.

·         Even though it’s not mandatory to add plants, some greenery can add a fresh touch.