An outdoor inner sanctum just steps from your back door!
Got a yen for Zen? We're talking about the garden-variety type here; a little piece of heaven just steps from your back door. Though the art of Japanese gardening is many centuries old, in just one weekend you can create a reasonable facsimile of a classic temple garden in a secluded corner of your yard. It requires a minimum of materials, not much money and best of all, needs very little maintenance.
Before going any further, it should be pointed out that the term "Zen Garden" is somewhat of a misnomer. Purists both historical and horticultural tend to frown on the phrase originally coined by American writer Loraine Kuck in her book "100 Gardens of Kyoto" published in 1935.
Seventy-odd years of use, right or wrong, have lent "Zen Garden" a veneer of authenticity whether it's valid or not. The point of all this is that whatever you call it, a Japanese-style rock garden (to be exact) will not only bring peace and harmony to your backyard, it will do the same for your soul!
The basic ingredients you'll require are a small, even tiny, plot of land, a quantity of beach sand (the whiter, the better) and some rocks of different shapes and sizes. Don't fuss too much over the rocks - as they're not fastened down, simply replace them when you find others that strike the right chord.
The finishing touch is putting your favorite lounge chair close enough to gaze on your handiwork anytime you need to relax.
An ideal backyard Zen Garden evolves and improves with the flow of time, much like the branches of a tiny, slow-growing pine tree gently coaxed into a pattern of balance and harmony by a skilled Bonsai master. Your garden will grow whenever you decide to adjust the position of this or that rock. It's an incremental process only limited by how much time you wish to spend. And, unlike a flower or vegetable garden, your Zen Garden doesn't need water... just the illusion of water will suffice.
The effect many rock gardeners aim for is that of a seascape dotted with islands, viewed from afar. Once you've dug your "sea" - and that basically entails removing grass and replacing it with sand over landscape fabric - place your rocks and gently rake the sand around them to form a pattern of wave-like grooves.
You can create a shoreline using rounded stones or go for a more severe look using pressure-treated 4x4 beams. The rule is, there ARE no rules... just put in what feels right. That's really the whole point of this exercise anyway.
Some have likened gazing upon a Zen Garden to a form of meditation, a way of distracting your mind from the daily hustle & bustle for a while. Sitting comfortably in your yard, cool drink in hand, it's easy to let your mind wander as your eyes take in an ocean panorama in miniature. Best of all, you created this therapeutic sanctum with minimal time and minimal labor. The reward? Maximum Zen-style serenity, right in your own backyard.
UPDATE: For those who would like the serenity of a zen garden without the work, you can try the Zen Garden Kit for your tabletop.