Zen garden ideas: Tips for creating a Japanese garden design

Love Japanese gardens (Zen gardens) and was wondering how to start creating one? We got you covered with some cool and easy-to-follow Japanese garden ideas. This article explores the five tips every zen garden enthusiast needs to implement to create beautiful and natural-looking gardens. The five tips are limiting flowering, designing from nature, adding water, including a tea house, and designing a mystery. Let’s dive right in.

Take design inspiration from nature

desk zen garden

If you walk in nature, like in botanic gardens and even in the wild, you will always see three things, plants, rocks, and water. These three elements are a foundation of Japanese garden design and are essential to making your Japanese Zen garden very nature rich. To get the same feel in your Zen garden, you could add Japanese garden plants and combine different colors and textures of the foliage of the plants.

Also, in a typical rock garden, use rocks as accents or as pathways to convey the feeling of tranquility and connection to nature. Furthermore, add the water element by creating ponds, streams, and waterfalls. In mini zen gardens or a desktop Zen garden, this water element can be created by making wavy, curly, spiral patterns on the sand to mimic water movements in traditional Japanese gardens.

Limit the flower color palette

Japanese garden mini

You want to limit the exaggerated use of flowers. Because excessive use of flowers in your Zen garden can overstimulate the senses even though they may be visually appealing. The reason is that this may defeat the purpose of the primary goal of a Zen garden which is to free the mind and meditate. Indeed, coloring a Japanese garden mostly comes through foliage (adding different trees with various leaf colors), not flowers. Rich use of foliage will have the same feel as flowers, but you may squeeze in a showy flower, too, if you enjoy growing them.

Add a water element


Water reflects the image of its surroundings and also encourages reflection of another kind. Indeed, you could add water features by creating ponds, streams, and waterfalls, or whichever of the three intrigues you.

Traditional Japanese garden ponds will have koi fish. Adding fish to the pond further beautifies the garden since fishing is considered a living flower in a Japanese garden. If a pond is not happening for you, consider adding a small water feature or a fountain with a design that connects to nature like a waterfall.
Furthermore, creating a miniature stream that leads from a waterfall with a bridge over it gives your garden a natural look and makes it more tranquil.

Add a tea house


Japanese gardens will often have secluded structures that provide an intimate space from which to take in the beauty of nature. It is like the space where Buddhist monks occupy to practice Zen meditation and are deemed sacred or spiritual. Create a tea house and perhaps add wooden seats to serve as a place for relaxation. So the idea here is to make it as comfortable as possible to spend quiet mindfulness moments.

You may also want to add a torii gate at the entrance to your tea house. A torii gate symbolizes the transition from an earthly world to a spiritual or heavenly world which is ideal for Zen meditation. Ideally, when placing such a structure, the goal is to provide a sense of a path traveled to reach a peaceful place. This is similar to a path one would take out of a busy city and deep into the mountains. It is not easy to give that sense of travel in backyard zen gardens because of space constraints. You could define your garden entrance as far away from the structure as possible and use winding stone paths to help create a sense of a journey to a peaceful place.

Create a mystery

Zen garden tea house

The final tip and perhaps the hardest one to accomplish is creating a sense of mystery of what is around the corner. Here you can break the rule of tall plants going in the back of the border by using taller specimens to obstruct the views of what lies ahead. You can also use widening paths that the eye is drawn to follow, and everything to the left and to the right of the path will be a surprise because it requires additional focus to notice


You have learned the five design tips we recommend you implement in your next Zen garden design. The tips we explored were limiting flowering, taking design inspiration from nature, adding a water feature, including a tea house, and designing a mystery. The Zen principle of Japanese garden designs allows creativity in making your own masterpiece. So, feel free to get creative and add some elements to complement these tips.
You may read about the seven Zen principles of Japanese garden design here to broaden your understanding of Zen garden designs.