How to Convert a Raised Bed Garden to a Japanese Zen Garden With Photos

Written by samantha belyeu
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How to Convert a Raised Bed Garden to a Japanese Zen Garden With Photos
Photos of Japanese Zen gardens reveal not only features, but how elements work together. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Creating any garden is easier with a plan, which helps the elements come together in a sensible, appealing manner instead of an unruly mix. This is especially true when creating a Zen garden, since the elements should inspire a sense of peace and order. Using photos of various Zen garden elements to build a framework for converting an existing raised bed into a Zen garden makes the process clearer and the outcome easier to visualise and achieve.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Photographs of Zen garden elements from magazines or online sources
  • Decorative stones or edging
  • Shovel or hoe
  • Landscape fabric
  • Compost to refresh planting areas, as necessary
  • Sand, pebbles and rocks
  • Ornaments such as lanterns, statues, water bowls or larger stones
  • Ornamental plants
  • Decorative mulch, as necessary
  • Rake with wide-spaced prongs

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    Design Process

  1. 1

    Gather photos from magazines or online sources that represent elements to include in the Zen garden. Keep in mind the dimensions of your raised bed garden to avoid choosing too many plants or ornaments, or choosing elements that are too large to fit comfortably in the space. Make notes of the actual size of each element, since photographs won't be to scale.

  2. 2

    Examine the elements you like in the photos to determine what about their surroundings makes them stand out or appealing--a bed of sand surrounding it, the branch of a bonsai tree hanging over an ornament, etc. Cut the element out of the photos. Print out online photos so that you can cut out the element.

    How to Convert a Raised Bed Garden to a Japanese Zen Garden With Photos
    The shrubs create an interesting space for an otherwise less-interesting rock garden. (Jupiterimages/ Images)
  3. 3

    Piece the cut out photos together on a piece of paper that represents your raised bed garden. Move elements around to make them fit and flow together properly. Ensure that there is open space for the flat areas inherent in Zen gardens, such as raked sand or pebble beds, or areas of matted, low-growing plants. Glue the elements into place once you're satisfied with the layout.


  1. 1

    Remove all weeds and debris from the raised bed garden, as well as any other plants that won't be incorporated into the Zen design. Mark off the areas where the garden changes from a raked sand bed to a raked pebble bed, or areas where there may just be plantings with decorative stones or edging pressed into the soil.

  2. 2

    Remove at least 3 inches of soil using a shovel or hoe in raked sand or raked pebble beds. Install landscape fabric cut to fit these areas to block weed seeds. Install sand or pebbles to fill the excavated area.

  3. 3

    Work compost into planting areas if the soil of the raised bed is depleted. Set decorative stones, ornaments, water elements or other non-plant material into place according to your pictorial outline. Work these elements into the sand, pebbles or surrounding ground slightly so that they seem to belong to the space, and do not disrupt the meditative flow of the Zen garden. Elements just set on the surface lack stability and cohesion in the Zen garden.

  4. 4

    Dig holes for each plant as wide as the rootball, but no deeper. Plant according to your pictorial outline so that the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Backfill with the surrounding soil and water deeply so they can begin to adjust to their new space. Cover with decorative mulch if desired to block weeds and add further ornamentation to the garden.

  5. 5

    Rake the sand bed and/or pebble bed into geometrical designs that suit the flow of the garden. Use a rake with more than 1 inch between the prongs to create distinct line patterns. Refer to your photographs for inspiration on geometrical raking shapes, patterns and lines.

    How to Convert a Raised Bed Garden to a Japanese Zen Garden With Photos
    Prongs that are too narrowly-spaced cannot create the ripple effects needed over sand or pebbles. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Tips and warnings

  • Use low-maintenance plants that are adapted to your hardiness zone and annual rainfall, especially if this is your first Zen garden. Plants that are suffering or dying detract from the meditative peace of the Zen garden.

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