Create Your Own Zen Garden

zen gardenEver noticed the subtle beauty of a japanese rock garden? No? Then carry on, this blog entry is not for you. For those of you who appreciate a more minimalistic and natural approach to aesthetics, we’ve decided to put together this guide. To build a truly serene zen garden we must first understand the principles behind it. Read on.


Kanso – Simplicity – Ideas are expressed plainly and naturally. It means to try and remove everything that is not essential. Think not decoration, but clarity of ideas. When you put something small in a wide open space it’s more significant than six big things in that same space.

Zen Wisdom: Leave only the things that carry meaning, everything else is redundant.

Fukinsei – Asymmetry –  Using asymmetry and irregularity to achieve balance in a composition is an integral part of the Zen aesthetic. Imperfection is part of existence. This is inspired by nature’s at first glance chaotic appearance, that is actually composed of asymmetrical yet harmoniously balanced relationships. This is a beauty that flows and engages the mind.

Zen Wisdom: Let energy flow. Create with feeling rather than meticulousness.

Shizen – Naturalness – Drop pretense and avoid artificiality. Do not force anything. This is not to mean that the spontaneity of a zen garden is just luck.  We strive to imitate nature, but with more intent and purpose on a smaller scale. This is the principle behind the art of bonsai.

 Zen Wisdom: Learn from nature’s patterns and rhythms and incorporate them in what you create.

Yugen – Subtlety – Precision and symmetry is not something nature does, and according to this principle, they imply stagnation and lifelessness. This has to do with the fact that suggestion is stronger than full disclosure as it opens up space for the imagination to roam. This in turn tickles our curiosity and moves us to action.

Zen Wisdom: Do not chase the colour, but instead the nuance.

Datsuzoku – Break from routine – Liberation from habit and daily routine.That which transcends the conventional. Datsuzoku describes the feeling of amazement when you realize you can escape from the ordinary. When a pattern that had settled with time is cracked, there’s a space for creativity to emerge.

Zen Wisdom: Operating routinely on auto-pilot stifles your creative flow.

Seijaku – Stillness – The feeling of energized tranquility that nature exudes. The aim of the zen garden is to recreate this exact sense of vibrant serenity. This is the exact opposite of what noise and disturbance bring to the table. This is at the core of the rock garden’s concept, because they came to be as a focus for meditation and a calm spot to relax in.

Zen Wisdom: Doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing.

Shibui – Austerity – Shibui is very similar to Kanso in it’s core, but it has to do with the communication of an idea or message, as well as conduct. Brevity. Each word of a samurai must have the heft of seven normal ones. This exact principle is Shibui. Minimizing elements to enhance the meaning that is conveyed.

Zen Wisdom: The flashier something is the more it distracts from it’s function.

a statue of buddha in a garden

Pertaining to the garden itself, these can be summarized like this:

  • A zen garden is a miniaturized version of nature itself and strives to imitate it.
  • Everything in it must carry a meaning to you. For example putting rocks that symbolize mountains, ponds that are seas, raking the sand in the form of a flowing river, etc.
  • Asymmetry and contrast are important. There is no centerpiece in a zen garden. Every element is designed to harmonize with each other and the final picture is more than a sum of it’s parts.
  • In japanese culture, gardens are viewed as a work of art. They are an interpretation of nature, rather than a copy. They should look natural, but they are not wild, and are almost obsessively maintained.


Now that you know the mindset from which these stem, you are ready to design your very own. In this section we will tell you about the elements which are normally used in these and the meaning attached to each one.

riverWater – Water is a must for any zen garden. That is not to mean it must be an actual body of water. Rock gardens for example incorporate this element with sand that is raked into wavelike patterns. Aside from that you can use anything from a pond to a natural flowing stream.

rocks on sandRocks and sand – Another essential element. Water and rock represent yin-yang and compliment each other well. Rocks should be of various size and shape, and never in bright colours which compromise the subtlety. They must be firmly planted to give the sense of permanency. Arrange them carefully in compositions of two, three, five or seven depending on what you wish to symbolise with them. Often solitary rocks are placed to enhance spontaneity.

japanese-garden-1159550_640Bridges – Most commonly made of stone or wood. There are also ones called dobashi which are made from logs with moss covered earth on top. Bridges symbolise transition, whether it’s from world to another or from one stage of life to another. They usually connect small islands to each other, but can also be arched over a pond or even a rock garden, depending on your intent.

stone-pile-1294743_640Flowers – In contrast to the European style of gardening where plants are chosen for their colour and blossoms, here it’s all about atmosphere. You will never see a flowerbed in a zen garden. You can spot single or small groups of blossoms that are put there for the sole purpose to create a picturesque scene or to obscure an undesirable view. Moss is also widely used to provide an air of great age. Of course you can use whatever plants would help you relax most, but remember the seven principles of Zen from above.

niwakiTrees – The position of trees is very carefully chosen and the species themselves are selected by their autumn colours. Trees in japanese gardens are called niwaki. Their growth is never left to chance, instead being shaped and pruned by the gardener. This can be done for a variety of reason. Whether it is to prevent a branch from obscuring an element from the landscape, to provide shade in a desired spot, to make them appear ancient or to cast an interesting reflection in a body of water.

You now know everything you need to create your own serene retreat from the noisy modern world. The best thing is that a zen garden is not defined by space. You can literally create one in a jar. It’s all about how you use the space that you have. We leave you with two Pinterest collections of Miniature Zen Gardens and Full Sized Zen Gardens to give you inspiration as well as some other beautiful gardens. Just please, please, don’t use the cheesy glass pebbles and/or the tacky unnaturally coloured sand.

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