8 Features to Add to Your Property’s Modern Zen Garden

From scatter-brained soccer parents to overworked business executives, most people live a lifestyle that is always on the move. Moments for zen, often described as the state of “no-mindedness,” are few and far between.

Also known as a Japanese rock garden, traditional Japanese zen gardens were established during the Muromachi Period (the 1300s-1500s) in Kyoto. They were found at Zen Buddhist temples, but their use has been popularized in home gardens in modern times.

Your zen garden should be a place for peaceful relaxation, meditation, and introspection. It is a reprieve from the stressors of daily life. There are many ways to personalize your property’s zen garden space, including features like ornamental trees, pathways, seating areas, waterways, and more. The addition of any of these things can help bring your Japanese-inspired backyard oasis to the next level.

8 Relaxing Zen Garden Features to Add to Your Property

The original intention of traditional Zen Buddhist rock gardens was to imitate the essence of nature. Carefully raked sand mimics water while rocks and precisely pruned trees make up the earthen landscape, creating an intricate coastal scene. There are many classic zen garden features to put your personal spin on, creating the ultimate home haven.

1. Stones of All Sizes

According to tradition, the selection of stones for a zen garden is crucial. Stones, boulders, and rocks of all sizes are made to look like Japan’s beautiful islands when placed strategically throughout the sand or gravel of a zen garden. Adding a variety of different sizes of stones will draw the eye to different areas of the perfectly landscaped property.

The Sakuteiki, the oldest published Japanese text on garden-making, teaches the importance of stone selection and placement. It was most likely the work of Tachibana Toshitsuna and is a fantastic reference point if you hope to uphold the Zen Buddhist traditions of rock gardens.

2. Seating Areas

During the Muromachi Period, the chief monk, or Hojo, would look out over the meticulously tended gardens from a porch, often meditating. Your backyard zen garden should also be a place where you can go to escape, so comfortable seating areas are a must.

Wooden tile platforms are a classic example of flooring choice to place within the garden. For a more traditional vibe, opt for cozy floor seating and dining areas. Regular patio tables and chairs make for a more modern, conventional aesthetic. Regardless of your style, make sure your seating area gives you a magnificent view of the entire backyard scene.

3. Water Features

Nothing is more relaxing than the sound of running water. Adding water features like fountains, waterfalls, and small streams will immerse you further into the sights, smells, and sounds of nature. Luckily for avid bird-watching enthusiasts, waterscapes are also an excellent way to invite flying friends to flock to your patio.

4. Plants

Another great tradition of Japanese culture is the tending of Bonsai trees. This art form consists of the cultivation and tending of small potted trees, pruned to resemble their larger, naturally occurring counterparts.

Small ornamental trees and shrubs add to the natural beauty of your home zen garden. If you’re in the correct climate, a Japanese cherry blossom tree adds a stunning pop of color to the landscape when it blooms.

Other unique plantings like tall grasses and bamboo can supply some additional privacy to your backyard. Place flowers strategically throughout the rock formations for more added beauty.

5. Lighting

There is very little purpose to a backyard that is only utilized during the day time. Install adequate outdoor lighting to ensure that your space is occupied at any hour of the day. Look for lighting fixtures that match the aesthetics of the zen garden, like lanterns, low lying pathway lighting, and unique lighting pillars.

6. Decorative Structures

If your outdoor space is large enough, there are a few decorative structures you can consider. Place small statues or bridges throughout the property, interspersed with trees, rocks, shrubs, and other plants. Bridges look amazing over little waterways like streams.

Even the most disciplined of monks will break a sweat in the hot summer sun. Installing a pergola or awning in your backyard space will make relaxation areas all the more inviting.

7. Fences

Privacy is essential for the authentic “zen” experience in your backyard. Bamboo, which is native to many areas throughout Asia, grows perennially – and rampantly – making it a fantastic fencing choice when pruned and maintained correctly.

However, if caring for bamboo does not sound appealing, regular manufactured fence options will also work. Vinyl fencing is very low maintenance and an economical choice. Vinyl fencing is made in a wide variety of colors and styles, so you won’t have to compromise on aesthetics.

Whether you choose to install regular fencing or plant a living fence, ensure that it is tall enough to keep prying eyes out. Your zen garden should be a secluded, serene, safe space for you and your family or guests.

8. Pathways

Another fantastic feature to include on your property is a small path. Add hidden pathway lighting to invite guests to wander throughout the zen garden during their visit. Small paths also make it much easier to maneuver throughout the garden as you tend to the sand, rocks, and plants.


For hundreds of years, Japanese zen gardens have been utilized to promote peace and serenity from within. Created as a sort of “living diorama” of a Japanese coastal landscape, tending to the sand, rocks, and plants within the garden is meant to be a meditative experience.

Today, many homeowners honor and emulate the Japanese tradition, enjoying the care and continual maintenance of the private outdoor space. While a basic zen garden only requires sand, rocks, a rake, and a lot of patience, you can also add additional features to personalize your property.

The initial installation of your zen garden may require professional expertise to complete, but in the end, the precise care and attention the garden necessitates is left to the property owner’s responsibility. Over time, the yard work will feel less like maintenance and more like mindlessness. That’s when you’ll know you are on the road to zen.