A Zen garden, otherwise known as a Japanese rock garden, is meant to be a stylized representation of the natural world. It generally contains a curated collection of rocks, water features, and plants, and sits atop gravel or sand (hence its other moniker—a dry garden). The gravel or sand tends to be raked to create wave-like patterns, further evoking the feeling of water and natural beauty.
Perhaps the best thing about a Zen garden is how easy it is not only to make, but to remake from time to time. So if your first go at creating serenity doesn’t exactly follow your plans, never fear—you may find that the simple process of making a Zen garden is all the calm that you need. “The best part about a Zen garden is really the learning process,” says Kalei Buczek, the general manager at the plant and flower studio Rewild DC. “Just take 10 to 15 minutes a day to do some arranging, some caring, or some checking-in on your garden; I’ve found it to be a really soothing experience, especially during the pandemic.”
Here are 5 easy Zen garden ideas to get you started
1. Pick a container the matches your personality
Your creativity is the only boundary when it comes to picking the base for your garden. “You can really use any kind of pot that speaks to you,” Buczek says. A more shallow dish will allow you to rake and play with the contents a bit more easily, but if you prefer a deeper container, you do you.
2. Consider swapping rocks for sand
Traditionally, Zen gardens involve white gravel because it is easier to work with than sand over a large space; however, sand may yield the most distinct patterns for your miniature dry landscape if you plan on using a rake (or pen) to create doodles and designs.
3. Opt for cool tones when adding elements
Given that they’re meant to be a calming environment, architects tend to select cool or neutral color palettes to ensure maximum mental relaxation when designing rock gardens. That means sticking to hues like blues and purples or earthier tones. You can add these slight pops of colors with trinkets like sea glass, miniature pottery, or anything else that might soothe the mind.
4. Select plants that speak to you
“It’s really more about what brings you joy and calm because each plant is unique and grows differently,” says Buczek. There are certain aesthetic guidelines, however, that Buczek recommends you follow to create a more artistic Zen garden. “In garden theory, if you’re looking for balance, you want to find a thriller, a filler, and a spiller,” she explains. “That means putting a taller plant in the back of your garden, a medium-sized bushy plant in the middle, and then something that is going to trail near the foreground.” Buczek also recommends working in groups of three, which she notes can easily be adapted to a very small space, as well as a large piece of real estate.
5. Don’t forget the rake
Perhaps the most satisfying element of a Zen garden of any size is the rake that you use to create patterns in either the gravel or the sand. Whether you need to meditate while drawing straight lines, or would prefer to create the traditional undulating curves to remind you of waves, using a small rake to unleash your creativity can work wonders for your stress.
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