47 Backyard Zen Garden Ideas (Photos)


Here's an epic guide and gallery of Zen gardens from all over the world, including Kyoto, Japan and many other temples and properties. This gallery includes all kinds of crushed rock used from fine sand to course gravel. Also, many patterns and other elements are included - many great ideas.

Don’t confuse a Zen garden with a Japanese garden.  While Zen gardens are a type of Japanese garden, not all Japanese gardens are Zen gardens.

A Zen garden is one devoid of water. It’s comprised mostly of sand and rocks while other types of Japanese gardens can be lush with shrubs, koi ponds, bridges, etc.

Zen gardens are also referred to as Japanese rock gardens or by the proper name, “karesansui” (dry landscape garden) [source: Insidekyoto.com].

If you’ve never seen a Zen garden, you might think the idea of just a rock/gravel garden sparsely mixed with larger boulders and maybe a few shrubs would be ugly, but it’s quite the opposite. There really is a minimalist, stark beauty to these gardens.  They also serve a purpose in the ever changing nature of them as you rake your patterns in them on a regular basis as part of a meditation exercise.

Below we set out a huge collection of the most beautiful Zen gardens in the world (many of course are in Japan).  Below that we set out a few miniature Zen gardens for indoors.

Materials used:

As you’ll see below, the main material is sand, gravel, small pebbles or crushed rock (gravel).  What’s interesting is there is no one type of rock or rock size used.  Some use larger pebbles while others fine sand and everything in between.

Large boulders are used sparingly to create depth and texture in the garden.  They serve as sculptures.

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Many of these gardens are surrounded by lush garden landscapes that incorporate water, bridges, various trees and plants, moss and shrubs of all types.

Get inspired to create your own Zen garden in your backyard from the many designs and examples below.

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Rock Zen Garden Ideas

Famous stone gardens of Kyoto

Famous stone gardens of Kyoto

Zen garden in the temples of Koyasan. World Heritage Site. Wakayama, Japan

Zen garden in the temples of Koyasan. World Heritage Site. Wakayama, Japan

traditional rock garden or zen garden in a sunny day inside Hase-Dera or Hase-kannon Shinto

traditional rock garden or zen garden in a sunny day inside Hase-Dera or Hase-kannon Shinto

Traditional Japanese raked gravel and rock garden (karesansui style) at Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Traditional Japanese raked gravel and rock garden (karesansui style) at Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan

The Japanese landscape with the Pagoda Tower on the background at Kew Gardens, Royal Botanical Gardens, London, UK

The Japanese landscape with the Pagoda Tower on the background at Kew Gardens, Royal Botanical Gardens, London, UK

Peaceful Japanese Zen Garden with Pond, Rocks, Gravel and Moss

Peaceful Japanese Zen Garden with Pond, Rocks, Gravel and Moss

Japanese zen gardens in Kyoto

Japanese zen gardens in Kyoto

Japanese Zen garden at the Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand
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Japanese Zen garden at the Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand

Japanese stone garden in Tofuku-ji temple (Kyoto)

Japanese stone garden in Tofuku-ji temple (Kyoto)

Japanese landscape - komyoji - kamakura - kanagawa

Japanese landscape – Komyoji – Kamakura – Kanagawa

Gardens of the world, East Garden, Berlin

Gardens of the world, East Garden, Berlin

Kyoto Hyakumanben Chionji Temple

Kyoto Hyakumanben Chionji Temple

View from Hyakumanben Chion-ji Temple's Peaceful Gardens. The Japanese rock garden or "dry landscape" garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water.

View from Hyakumanben Chion-ji Temple’s Peaceful Gardens. The Japanese rock garden or “dry landscape” garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water.

The Japanese rock garden Karesansui) or "dry landscape" garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water.

The Japanese rock garden Karesansui) or “dry landscape” garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water.

Japanese zen garden with scenic stone pathway

Japanese zen garden with scenic stone pathway

Sand and Stone Garden. This is one of the five gardens located at the Portland Japanese Garden. This is located in the Pacific Northwest in in Portland, Oregon. I am a Photographer level member of the Portland Japanese Garden as required by the Garden for Commercial use of photos.

Sand and Stone Garden. This is one of the five gardens located at the Portland Japanese Garden. This is located in the Pacific Northwest in in Portland, Oregon. I am a Photographer level member of the Portland Japanese Garden as required by the Garden for Commercial use of photos.

Koyasan, Japan - November 16, 2010: Banryutei Rock Garden in the Kongobuji temple complex. This temple is known as the headquarters of the Koyasan Shingon sect of Buddhism.This sect was introduced to Japan by Kobo Daishi in 805.World Heritage Site.Largest rock garden in Japan.
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Koyasan, Japan – November 16, 2010: Banryutei Rock Garden in the Kongobuji temple complex. This temple is known as the headquarters of the Koyasan Shingon sect of Buddhism.This sect was introduced to Japan by Kobo Daishi in 805.World Heritage Site.Largest rock garden in Japan.

Stone and Sand Garden at Portland Japanese Garden with Tiled Roof Wall

Stone and Sand Garden at Portland Japanese Garden with Tiled Roof Wall

Portland Japanese Garden, Sand and Stone Zen Garden, Oregon State, USA

Portland Japanese Garden, Sand and Stone Zen Garden, Oregon State, USA

View of a zen rock garden in the summer

View of a zen rock garden in the summer

Sand Garden, Kyoto, Japan.

Sand Garden, Kyoto, Japan.

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Japanese garden seen from inside a traditional tatami room.

Japanese garden seen from inside a traditional tatami room.

Temple Garden

Temple Garden

Japanese garden of stones at morning

Japanese garden of stones at morning

A beautiful small cairn sculpture on the beach near Lake Michigan.

A beautiful small cairn sculpture on the beach near Lake Michigan.  Here’s an idea – you can apply the Zen practice on a beach if you live near one or are visiting.

Bao Loc, Vietnam - Rock Garden with the rays of sunshine radiating in the sky creates a peaceful feeling at Bao Loc, Vietnam.

Bao Loc, Vietnam – Rock Garden with the rays of sunshine radiating in the sky creates a peaceful feeling at Bao Loc, Vietnam.

Tofuku-ji Temple, which was founded in 1236, is the head temple of the Tofuku-ji School of Rinzai Sect of Zen Buddhism. Tofuku-ji Temple is one of the most popular spots for Kyoto's beautiful autumn foliage. The maple trees beside the Tsuten Bridge in the temple are its centerpiece.

Tofuku-ji Temple, which was founded in 1236, is the head temple of the Tofuku-ji School of Rinzai Sect of Zen Buddhism. Tofuku-ji Temple is one of the most popular spots for Kyoto’s beautiful autumn foliage. The maple trees beside the Tsuten Bridge in the temple are its centerpiece.

Karesansui, Japanese traditional landscape gardenn at Tofukuji temple, Kyoto, MiniKyoto

Karesansui, Japanese traditional landscape gardenn at Tofukuji temple, Kyoto, MiniKyoto.

Bainbridge Island, Washington United States - A beautiful summer day at Bainbridge Island, sunlights bright on the Japanese garden and the cozy guest lounge at the Bloedel Reserve.

Bainbridge Island, Washington United States – A beautiful summer day at Bainbridge Island, sunlights bright on the Japanese garden and the cozy guest lounge at the Bloedel Reserve.  This is an example of a small Zen garden that you could easily replicate in your backyard.

Kyoto, Japan - Kennin-ji Temple is one of the five most important Zen temples and it's the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan – Kennin-ji Temple is one of the five most important Zen temples and it’s the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto

Zen garden at Hyakumanben Chionji Temple in kyoto japan

Zen garden at Hyakumanben Chionji Temple in Kyoto, Japan.  This is an excellent small Japanese Zen garden idea for your backyard.

Zen garden at Hyakumanben Chionji Temple in kyoto japan

Zen garden at Hyakumanben Chionji Temple in kyoto japan

Zen garden at Hyakumanben Chionji Temple in kyoto japan

Zen garden at Hyakumanben Chionji Temple in kyoto japan

Detail from Zen garden, which is Japanese type rock garden presenting miniature landscape. It is carefully arranged meditation place with rocks, water, or water features, sand, moss, trees and bushes .

Detail from Zen garden, which is Japanese type rock garden presenting miniature landscape. It is carefully arranged meditation place with rocks, water, or water features, sand, moss, trees and bushes .

Zen Garden japanese style of stone garden way of peace

Zen Garden japanese style of stone garden way of peace

Kyoto, Japan - A stone lantern in the traditional zen garden of Shoren-in Temple, a Buddhist temple located Kyoto's Southern Higashiyama district.

Kyoto, Japan – A stone lantern in the traditional zen garden of Shoren-in Temple, a Buddhist temple located Kyoto’s Southern Higashiyama district.

Japanese Zen Garden near Seattle with raked sand around rocks

Japanese Zen Garden near Seattle with raked sand around rocks

Zen rock garden at the Japanese Tea Gardens in Portland Oregon.

Zen rock garden at the Japanese Tea Gardens in Portland Oregon.

Zen rock garden at the Japanese Tea Gardens in Portland Oregon.

Zen rock garden at the Japanese Tea Gardens in Portland Oregon.

Small Zen garden in between Chion-ji Temle buildings walls. It is Japanese type rock garden presenting miniature landscape. It is carefully arranged meditation place with rocks, water, or water features, sand, moss, trees and bushes .

Small Zen garden in between Chion-ji Temle buildings walls. It is Japanese type rock garden presenting miniature landscape. It is carefully arranged meditation place with rocks, water, or water features, sand, moss, trees and bushes .

Detail from Zen garden, which is Japanese type rock garden presenting miniature landscape. It is carefully arranged meditation place with rocks, moss, trees and roots with white wll in background. That is in Chion-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan..

Detail from Zen garden, which is Japanese type rock garden presenting miniature landscape. It is carefully arranged meditation place with rocks, moss, trees and roots with white wll in background. That is in Chion-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan..

Return to all types of gardens as well as our epic backyard ideas article here.

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Miniature Zen rock gardens

If you like the meditative aspect of this type of garden, you can do it indoors with miniature Zen gardens with small rakes.  Check out a few popular examples below.

ICNBUYS Zen Garden with Boat Bridge Japanese Censers Set with Free Rake and Pushing Sand Pen Base Tray Diameter 9.4 inches

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AsanaLiving Desktop Zen Sand Garden with Concrete Base, Meditating Buddha Statue, Bamboo Rake, Stamp and Faux Lotus Plant

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Nature's Mark, Mini Meditation Zen Garden, 7 x 6 Inches Hexagon with Succulent, Figures and Natural River Rocks (8L x 5W)

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Zen Garden, Meditation Rock and Sand Garden for Desk and Home, 8 x 5 inches Mini Zen Kit, Includes Rake and Natural River Rocks, 4 Pieces, Ideal for Office, Zen Corner

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