How to Make a Small Japanese Zen Garden on Your Balcony

Small Japanese Zen Garden

Are you looking to add a bit of peace and tranquility to your home? Japanese zen gardens are a fantastic way to create a calming and relaxing space where you meditate and unwind.

If you don’t have much space in your home, fret not! We’re going to show you how to create a small zen garden right on your balcony or patio.

What Are the Basics of a Zen Garden?

A zen garden is the same thing as a Japanese rock garden. It’s a landscape that’s created by using:

  1. rocks
  2. stones
  3. gravel
  4. sand
  5. moss
  6. water features

Basically they’re made with things you’d expect to find in a forest, along a river bank, or at a beach.

Japanese rock gardens are traditionally used as a space for meditation and reflection. Seating is placed outside of the garden on a porch where the view is the best. This is different from western gardens where the seating is usually somewhere in the middle.

To mimic this on a balcony or patio, you can section off a small section to dedicate to the zen garden, and arrange your seating in a way that faces it. If you don’t have space for chairs or would rather not use any, you can create your garden in a way that’s it’s visible from inside your home.

With that said, let’s look at how you can create your own small zen garden step by step!

Set up the Flooring

As we said before, zen gardens are made using natural elements and concepts. Many people have balconies that are created from metal. One popular trend in Japan is to use wood tiles to cover the balcony floor and give it a more earthy feel.

Wood Tile Flooring

Wood tiles are great because they snap into place and can be cut to adjust to the size of your balcony. They add a sense of being in a forest minus all the bugs and other creatures crawling around!

In Japan the wood tiles are often placed in alternating orientation. For example, the first tile is placed horizontally, but the one next to it is placed vertically, and so on. This creates a checkered pattern that is similar to a famous rock garden located at Toufuku-ji temple in Kyoto.

Sand or Gravel Flooring

Zen Garden Gravel
Zen Garden Gravel

A small section of the balcony floor can be left uncovered by the tiles in order to fill it in with gravel or sand. White gravel is probably the best option to go with because it’s more likely to stay in place and not wash away when it rains or move from strong wind.

Small white landscaping gravel chips can be used to create the base of your zen garden. What’s nice about them is that they’re inexpensive and long lasting. They’re large enough that they won’t shift around too much by the weather, but small enough to fit together nicely and cover your balcony floor.

Sand can end up washing off your balcony or even clogging the drains. It’ll have to be cleaned and replaced regularly, which makes it significantly more high maintenance.

Opting for sand might create a more cumbersome zen garden instead of a relaxing one!

If you’re on a tight budget though, you can collect rocks and sand for free from a nearby beach.

Set up the Main Features

Kyoto Rock Garden
Kyoto Rock Garden

At a minimum a rock garden has a few large stones that are set upright. They are meant to look like mountains and are turned in a way that their best side faces the seating area.

Pick a free day to go out and collect rocks of various sizes with interesting shapes. Three or four should be enough for a small zen garden.

Stones that are covered in moss are a fantastic way to get a more authentic feel. They add a bit of green to contrast with the white gravel and wooden tile background.

You might be able to find some simple moss balls at your local craft store or garden center.

Bonsai trees are another great way to add some green to your small zen garden. Their tiny twisted shapes are mesmerizing and can add a unique flair to your space.

Rake Your Unique Landscape

After collecting your zen garden features, it’s time to set your landscape up! The gravel or sand around the rocks in zen gardens are usually raked in flowing patterns that imitate water.

After placing a rock on top of the gravel, a small rake can be used to circle around it and create at pattern that looks like ripples in water. This is a good chance to play around with, be creative, and have fun with your zen garden!

Try raking different patterns and moving the stones around until you find the perfect design that’s right for you. Don’t worry if you come up with several ideas and can’t decide on just one!

The nice thing about zen gardens is that you can change the design to set a new mood and feel to it. One week you might want it to look like Mt. Fuji, and the next week you might want it to look more like Mt. Rushmore!

Okay, that’s a terrible joke!

But the point is to just have fun with it so that you’ll enjoy looking at your zen garden and the positivity it can bring.

How Much Does Making a Zen Garden Cost?

A small zen garden for your balcony or patio is going to be much smaller in scale compared to traditional ones found at Japanese temples. This means that the cost can also be very small and next to nothing.

Everything needed to create a zen garden can be collected for free! As we said before, you can spend time in your nearby woods, beaches, or riversides to get all of the resources to put one together.

Wood paneling, such as the Runnen tiles sold at Ikea, can be a bit pricey depending on the size of your balcony or patio. They’re also sold in sets, so you might end up with more tiles than you actually need.

If you’re really patient, you could DIY your own wood floor, or skip it altogether! Figure out what’s best for you and go with it!

LaShawn Toyoda

I love home decor, DIY, and gardening. During my free time I enjoy looking for new ways to improve my home so that it's more organized, comfortable, and relaxing. My apartment in Japan has a small balcony with a great view. I created this site to share and get ideas for how to decorate and better utilize my balcony space.

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