How to Make a Japanese Rock Garden in Your Backyard

how to make a japanese rock garden

Having started over 1500 years ago in the Heian period, the Japanese Rock Garden idea is simple – use sand and water features to simulate nature, make it small but highly spiritual, and surround it by a tiny wall. In a nutshell, create a Yin-Yang environment to develop your Chi energy. Then meditate and find the true meaning of life within its beauty!

Its been proven that spending time in a Japanese rock garden relieves stress and anxiety and makes you appreciate life’s genuine beauty, seen from a brand-new perspective. Here you can find a quick guide on how to create your own little corner of paradise. Enjoy!

What Do You Need?

  • Sand
  • Rocks
  • A specially designed rake
  • Many plants and bushes
  • Statues (you can choose a Buddha statue!)
  • Water features such as fountains or ponds
  • Garden lamps
  • Benches

Basic Questions to Ask Before Starting:

  • Will it be small-sized or medium-sized?
  • Will it be located indoors or outdoors?
  • Where would you feel more comfortable relaxing or meditating?

japanese rock garden, garden, DIY, backyard design

How to Design Your Perfect Garden:

Set Up the Area After Choosing It Wisely

The first step you must take is setting up the area for when you’ll add the sand and the rocks. If your garden will be situated outdoors, then you might have more work to do. You must remove any grass, mud, or dirt getting in the way. Create the space you need for adding the above elements.

  • Mow the lawn
  • Cover it with different magazine or newspaper sheets (you must have at least 12 layers!)
  • On top of the layers, add a black landscape fabric
  • Add mulch on top of it and make sure you spread it evenly
  • Add sand on top of the mulch and use the special rake to spread it evenly
  • Leave it like this for no less than three weeks, then add sand on top of it!
  • Buy or build a topless box made out of wood
  • Fill the box with sand
  • Make sure you spread it evenly

japanese rock garden, garden, DIY, backyard design

Add the Rocks to Your New Project

According to the Sakuteiki, the earliest surviving manual for Japanese garden design, one must first acquire an overall “feeling of the place” before arranging rocks onto a landscape. Here are the basic types of stone arrangements you could choose from –

  • Tall vertical – make the rocks stand upright (no more than 3 feet high); this will be the focal point of your garden
  • Low vertical – same idea as the tall vertical, but shorter in length
  • Inclining – making the stones take a diagonal shape and supporting other groups of stones
  • Reclining – these rock types arch from the soil in a fairly symmetric shape; however, they are not inclined
  • Horizontal – they sit flat on the ground like stepping-stones

Before moving on to the next step, you must give life to your rocks by establishing which one of its sides will be used as the rock’s “head,” “face,” and “root.” You will set the latter in the soil, and the stone’s head will face the place designed for meditation.

Chris Travis, artist and garden designer for, shares his opinion. “Stones are very high in energy. Thus, you must offer them a ‘rising feeling of triumph’ by setting them in the order that you’ve chosen. It is important that you create your own garden – your design defines your personality and the way you would feel comfortable contemplating.”

Some excellent examples of stones you could choose from –

  • 滝添石 or Takisoe ishi
  • 亭主 or Teishuseki
  • 手燭 or Teshoku ishi
  • 湯桶石 or Yutō seki
  • 関守石 or Sekimori ishi
  • 沓脱石 or Kutsunugi ishi

japanese rock garden, rock garden, garden, DIY, backyard design

Can I Apply Lazy Gardening Techniques to Create a Japanese Rock Garden?

Creating a Japanese rock garden requires precision and careful attention to detail, so applying lazy gardening techniques may not yield the desired results. However, with strategic planning and minimal effort, it is possible to achieve a great garden with minimal effort through the integration of low-maintenance plants, efficient irrigation systems, and thoughtful design choices.

Learn the Basic Rules of Stone Setting

  • You should have more horizontal stones than vertical
  • You should not place your stones in straight lines
  • You should group rocks (no larger groups than three)
  • You should diversify the rocks – use all sizes and shapes
  • If you feel spontaneous, you should add randomly positioned rocks

Can I Create a Japanese Rock Garden in my Apartment Window Box?

Why not? Creating a mini garden for apartment dwellers is a fantastic idea to bring a touch of Japanese serenity to your living space. With careful selection of moss, rocks, and sand, you can mimic the calming charm of a traditional Japanese rock garden in your apartment window box. Just ensure proper maintenance to keep it healthy and vibrant.

  • You should have more horizontal stones than vertical
  • You should not place your stones in straight lines
  • You should group rocks (no larger groups than three)
  • You should diversify the rocks – use all sizes and shapes
  • If you feel spontaneous, you should add randomly positioned rocks

Make It Decorative

You should personalize your garden according to your preferences. Here are some cool ideas you could include in your Zen project –

  • Water features for relaxing sounds and a peaceful mind
  • Plants and bushes that add to the calmness and tranquility of the place
  • A seating area for your guests
  • Nicely designed pavers to wander shoeless through your garden
  • Lots of grass!
  • Cozy ambient lighting for late tea parties
  • Wood decks and benches

Wrapping Up

Now that you’ve created your perfect Zen garden, don’t forget to maintain it correspondingly. Use the rake to clear away the leaves and maintain the setting peaceful for your meditation sessions. Love your garden with all your heart! Keep it fresh with care and affection. It is the essential ingredient to possess.


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