Designing a Zen Garden: Creating Sacred Space In The Garden

By Darcy Larum | May 11, 2017
Image by Delpixart
by Darcy Larum
May 11, 2017

The hectic hustle and bustle of daily life can burn us out quickly. After working long hours, we head home to taxi the kids to their activities, tackle a list of household chores, try to squeeze in a proper dinner and fulfill any other obligations we’ve committed ourselves to. Then we head to bed to rest up only to repeat the whole process again the following day. By the time Friday rolls around, we’re exhausted and longing for a vacation. While most of us can’t afford to escape to a faraway destination every weekend, we can bring the elements of an exotic, peaceful oasis to our own homes by creating a Japanese or Chinese Zen garden in our backyard.

Zen is a state of peace, harmony and enlightenment that is often achieved by connecting with nature through meditation or visiting a sacred place. A Zen garden is a Japanese or Chinese style garden created to be your own sacred area. This can be a space for meditation, reflection or socializing – such as a pavilion, teahouse or comfortable seating area. While it’s important to use traditional elements of a Zen garden, it’s also important that you personalize yours. Traditionally, Zen gardens incorporate the elements of Yin and Yang, which are opposite elements of nature that complement and balance each other, such as mountains and the sea or the earth and the heavens.

While you can’t add a mountain or a sea to a home garden, these elements are represented by other natural items commonly featured in Zen gardens. Large rocks and boulders are used to represent the stability and strength of mountains. Ponds, streams and fountains are used to represent the ever-changing nature of water and of life. Fine white sand or dry creek beds can also be used to represent water. Plants represent the living earth, while bamboo fences are often used to represent forests. Bridges, whether usable or just decorative, represent a pathway or transcendence to the heavens, or nirvana. Lanterns are also traditionally placed throughout Zen gardens to guide and enlighten the spirit.

-placead-Everything used in a Zen garden should be natural looking. No plastic or brightly colored garden décor is used. The idea is to connect with nature and feel at peace. Bridges, structures and lanterns may be red or a reddish brown because true to the concept of Yin and Yang, red is opposite and complementary to the green of the earth. Most of the garden’s color comes from the element of earth in the plants. Evergreens are commonly used in Japanese or Chinese Zen gardens. Sometimes these evergreens are shaped as pom-poms or topiaries to be exotic looking specimen plants. Natural colors also come from flowering ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials. Some common plants for Zen gardens include:


  • Juniper
  • Yew
  • Hemlock
  • Chamaecyperis
  • Mugo pine
  • Japanese black pine

Ornamental Trees

  • Japanese maple
  • Tiger’s eye sumac
  • Ornamental cherry
  • Magnolia
  • Willow
  • Weeping pea shrub
  • Contorted filbert
  • Pagoda dogwood
  • Japanese lilac tree


  • Barberry
  • Mock orange
  • Flowering quince
  • Lilac
  • Japanese spirea
  • Flowering almond
  • Hydrangea
  • Roses
  • Hypericum
  • Dogwood


  • Hosta
  • Oriental and Asiatic lilies
  • Astilbe
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Poppy
  • Echinacea
  • Peony
  • Spiderwort
  • Delphinium
  • Bleeding heart
  • Grasses
  • Cimicifuga

Again, it is important to personalize your Zen garden so that it can give you peace and relaxation. Incorporating your own favorite plants is an easy way to do this. Homelily’s is a great place to look for additional ideas for your peaceful home and garden design.

The above article was sponsored by Homelilys Decor. The information contained in this article may contain ads or advertorial opinions.
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