Mind-soothing rock garden – set up your very own Zen Rock Garden!

Zen rock garden in Japan, private house

If a certain corner of the garden is rebellious and resists all the plants you’ve tried growing in it, don’t give up! No need to let weeds take over – turn the area into a relaxing Zen rock garden.

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Rock is King

Those among us lucky to have visited Japan have surely heard of the Ryoanji gardens.

This famous Zen garden features only sand, gravel, river stones and rocks.

No need to travel to Japan to see this mind-soothing Zen rock garden, though! Indeed, there are even a few replicas in Europe and America, too.

  • In France, one stands in the town of Montvendre, in the Drôme region.
  • For a while, there was a full-size replica in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, in New York (United States of America).

The original Ryoanji zen stone garden is too large to rebuild at home. Much better is to compose a miniature “karenasui” (dry garden, in Japanese) of your very own.

Minimal maintenance…

Mark out a rectangle of about a dozen square feet (a few square meters).

  • Plow or till or spade the soil to remove any rocks and weeds.
  • Cover the ground with a plastic film to keep weeds from sprouting through. Avoid woven or fabric-like films for this weed-barrier.
  • Purchase or gather mineral materials: fine sand, gravel, polished river stones, aged rocks. All are generally available in garden stores, but nice stones and rocks can be found at municipal dump sites in the rocks, soil, and excavation sections.
  • Pull the weed barrier tight. Use wire hooks or tent-pegs to stake the film to the ground. Spread sand across the entire surface. Create a small-scale “dry river” with the river stones, gravel, or slate mulch.
  • Place larger rocks in a harmonious pattern in the garden. It may take a few tries to “get it right”.
  • Buy or build a wooden rake with triangular teeth to rake the sand. You might also choose to add a miniature Buddhist temple, a small bridge, or a tipping bamboo fountain.

Your Zen garden is ready! The only maintenance you’ll have is the meditative raking of the sand after it rains. Rake new wave patterns on the spattered sand.

… for maximum meditative impact

Rocks and gravel in the historic Ryoanji gardens.In the original Ryoanji garden, the 15 boulders are artfully placed so that not all are visible at the same time.

Group your own rock-boulders by threes. Try alternating shapes so that the silhouette they form looks like something special.

  • For example, from a certain point of view, they might resemble a ship navigating through fog – and sand would be the sea.
  • To create that effect, a taller, triangular stone would represent the mast and sails.
  • A long, flat stone will stand for the deck and hull.

Sitting cross-legged in front of such a minimalist space will do wonders to clear your mind. Over time, you’ll accumulate hours of restful meditation.

Pierrick Le Jardinier

Creating one of these in your own home will give you an extra place to use to get away from other people. Perfect to get a breather from a crowded house, or simply to maximize social distancing in the garden.

Smart Zen rock garden tips

Even you don’t have an outdoor garden you can still have the benefits of zen meditation with an indoor rock garden.

Some kits are for sale, but you can easily build your own with a handful of sand and a few nice pebbles.


Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
The garden of Sansuiro Ryokan by © Japan Ryokan Association / © Japan National Tourism Organization
Zen Garden by Ryoanji Garden / © Japan National Tourism Organization