Japanese Zen Gardens

Japanese gardens have been around for hundreds of years and combine simple, natural elements such as water, stone, sand and plants to create a tranquil, Zen sanctuary. The way these various elements are employed in relation to one another brings about a miniaturized version of nature. The designs of these gardens are based on three principles: reduced scale, symbolization, and borrowed view.

Rock Gardens

Waterless rock and sand gardens portray scenes of mountain views and rivers. The sand and gravel is raked into careful patterns to symbolize rivers while the rocks represent mountains. The grouping can be done randomly or in patterns but tradition says stones should be placed in odd numbers. Placing these gardens in existing scenery brings about the illusion of seeing mountains from a distance.

You don’t need a large outdoor space to add a rock garden to your home. Below you can see a glass enclosed rock garden in this home that unifies the living space with nature. Note the careful patterns in the sand and how they create the illusion of a river. If you are looking for something smaller, you can buy the desk-top rock garden seen below which can be found and purchased online.

Moss Gardens

Japanese gardens often utilize moss because of its versatility and resilience. Moss is able to survive and remain green even in harsh conditions, including severe cold and drought. Moss has remained a crucial element in Japanese gardens because it is considered a peaceful plant.

As you can see in this design, square sections of moss are alternated with square stones to create a chessboard effect.

Moss can also be spread out throughout the garden space whether it is surrounding a structure or a body of water.

Adequate shade is required for moss to really flourish, but some sunlight is fine. Moss should be grown in an area with adequate moisture, shade, humidity, and a soil pH of 5.0-5.5. In order to grow your own moss garden, three steps should be taken after purchasing living moss, which can also be found online.

1. Select a great location for your garden with medium to dense shading – direct sunlight should be avoided.

2. The pH of the soil should be tested, and then if necessary brought up to the desired level with liquid sulfur powder suspension mixed with water, sprayed on the soil where moss will be placed.

3. Since moss loves humidity, regular misting is important after transplanting moss which should continue for at least the first three weeks.

Koi Fish Ponds

Koi ponds are another very common element of Japanese gardens. They represent lakes or seas, bringing color and life to the garden. As you can see in the photos below, Koi ponds can be very large in a recreational area or small enough to fit in a backyard.


Another common element is a bridge. They are used to connect the land so one can move about the garden freely. Bridges can be made of wood or stone and can be simple or elaborate. Notice some of the bridges in the following photos are bright red while some are unadorned stone.

Shishi-odoshi: Japanese Bamboo Water Feature

These unique water features are placed in gardens to scare away birds and animals that may do damage to the garden. A bamboo tube is used with a water source which trickles into the lighter end causing the heavier end to lift off the ground, emptying the tube. When it comes back down on the rock, the crashing sound is the scare tactic.

Japanese Lanterns

You can find all different shapes and sizes of Japanese lanterns, but they are typically always created in stone. They are carefully placed within the garden at select locations, usually on islands or next to important buildings, to provide light and add beauty to the space.

Creating a beautiful Japanese garden in your home doesn’t require a huge amount of space; it only requires the use of these elements, no matter how large or small they may be.

Recommended Reading: 
51 Modern Landscape Design Ideas That Make You Want To Live Outdoors
Zen Inspired Interior Design

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