15 Japanese Zen Garden Ideas On A Budget

Japanese zen gardens are a way to easily decorate your backyard. Originating in Buddhism, zen gardens were a way to find peace and a place to meditate. Now, they are becoming more popular around the world as a way to find peace in your own home and backyard. Though a zen garden can be done on a budget, it can also cost a small fortune if you aren’t careful.

If you’re needing zen garden ideas on a budget, we are here to help. We have provided 15 ideas and tips to help you start building your zen garden, without putting a huge dent into your pocket.

What Are the Three Essential Elements of a Japanese Garden?

With the popularity of minimalism, more and more houses are embracing zen gardens. What makes a Japanese zen garden different from a xeriscaping garden is the use of three main elements.

These three essential elements are:

  • Stones: provide a structure and shape to the garden.
  • Water: is important to symbolize a life-giving force.
  • Plants: are for life, change, and color.

What Do Rocks Symbolize in a Zen Garden?

Zen rocksIn a zen garden, rocks traditionally symbolize a part of nature, such as mountains. They also stand for strength and power.

A lot of gardens either start with rocks at the entrance or use them as main features throughout the garden to draw attention.

What Else Goes Into a Zen Garden?

Besides the three essential elements, there isn’t much else required to make a garden a Japanese zen garden. If you want, you can include other traditional items for decoration, but it all depends on your personal preference.

Some other items you can add include:

  • Bridges
  • Gravel
  • Sand
  • Crystals
  • Wood
  • Lanterns
  • Fencing
  • Anything that makes you feel at peace

Remember, the purpose of a zen garden is to help you feel calm. Adding things because you feel they should go there, and not because you want them there is detrimental to the whole purpose.

How Do You Set Up a Japanese Zen Garden?

Setting up a Japanese zen garden is easy, but it can be intimidating to know where to start. We find it works best to start with the bigger items and to slowly go down in size. That way, you have your basic layout planned, and only need to work on filling in spaces.

  1. First, start with your largest features. Figure out what you want those to be, such as rocks, ponds, seating areas, and figurines.
  2. Then, create whimsical paths between them.
  3. Finally, fill in the space. Fill in areas with patterns in the gravel, plants, small figurines, or whatever else you may enjoy.

15 Budget-Friendly Zen Garden Ideas

1. Make a Path Out of Flat Stones

One of the first steps to making your garden feel zen is to have a simple pathway throughout your garden. These can be stones set into the ground, as you can see in this video, or you can have large, rounded stepping stones to stand on.

If you can’t find rocks or stones to your liking, consider making ones out of cement. These will be more personal, and you can even add your own designs

2. Add a Simple Pool or Pond

Water is another essential part of a zen garden, but pools and fancy water features can be expensive.

Thankfully, you don’t need much to create a water feature that looks nice. You can make a simple pond in the ground, or for a budget-friendly idea, you can take a deep cement bowl and fill it with water and plants.

To make it look nicer around the edges, you can surround it with some larger, smooth rocks.

3. Fill Your Yard With Gravel, Sand, or Pebbles

A gravel garden not only makes maintenance of your yard easier, it also doesn’t cost that much more. Gravel, pebbles, and sand are all popular alternatives to plants.

As a note, if you live in a windier area, using gravel or pebbles may be a better idea, so the wind won’t disrupt your garden design.

4. String Lights Around the Space

If you are going to use your zen garden primarily at night, it may be a good idea to hang some lights. Fairy lights are often cheap, and easy to hang up by yourself in just a couple of hours.

They can brighten up a space, bring peace, and add a fun pop of color, depending on the type you buy.

5. Make Cement Statues or Figurines

Buying cute cement figurines can be costly. However, you can make them yourself for a much better price. Most of the time, it just takes cement, water, and items around the house to use as a mold.

To get your whole family involved, adults and children can work together to make the stepping stones and figurines. You can even take marbles, pebbles, little plastic figurines, and charms and place them in the mold to add some personality and charm!

6. Add Some Seasonal, Low-Maintenance Plants

Another essential step for a zen garden is plants. Generally, you want perennial plants that change colors throughout the year but continue to grow.

There are a lot of options out there, and some are fairly cheap. For example, you can purchase plants native to your region. That way, you only have minimal maintenance to keep them growing and looking beautiful.

7. Add Windchimes or Other Sound Elements

Speaking of noise, adding objects that create sound can help your garden feel more peaceful. Traditional Japanese zen gardens use “souzu”, which is a sort of water fountain that bounces occasionally to create a melodic sound.

Windchimes are a great way to add soft music to the background. Soft waterfalls can also add a peaceful noise to the garden. For an inexpensive option, display birdseed and you can listen to bird songs at all hours of the day.

8. Make Fun Designs with Plants and Different Stones

Creating a pattern or border from different colors of stones interspersed with plants adds a fun design to your garden, without much-added cost. You can buy rocks in different-sized bags, so you can get the amount you need without overspending.

9. Make or Buy an Arch

Arches help add height and shape to a garden and can draw the eye to a certain area. They can be costly to buy but are fairly easy to make with some leftover wood and climbing plants.

10. Purchase a Small Water Feature

If you want something more extravagant than a pond or pool, a little water feature can add movement, sound, and an eye-catching focal point to your garden.

You can usually purchase a simple water feature for under $50 and decorate it with rocks and plants. However, you can also make your own with a few pipes and old pots!

11. Make a Mini Zen Garden

If you don’t have a yard, but want to still experience the peace that comes with a zen garden, consider making a mini one. There are plenty you can buy as well, but they usually lack features and ways to personally design it.

12. Build Zen Gardens with Your Children

Who says that zen gardens have to be permanent? If you are looking for something to do, and want to teach your children a little about decorating, creativity, and finding peace, consider making a DIY zen garden with them.

You can use candy to make an edible zen garden or whip out the arts and crafts to make one that they can keep in their rooms.

13. Upcycle Old Glass to Add Decorative Pieces

If you are anything like me, you probably go through a lot of glass bottles. Instead of tossing them out, consider upcycling them to make decorations all around your yard. From small planters to miniature fences, there is a lot to do with leftover wine, soda, and beer bottles.

And if your project doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to? Not a problem! You only lost items that you were going to toss out anyway.

14. Use Artificial Plants for Low Maintenance

Instead of planting bushes and flowers that need to be constantly maintained, think about using artificial plants instead.

These allow you to have the colors and textures you want in your garden, without having to keep them watered or maintain them when they lose their flowers and the leaves die off.

15. Create a Peaceful Seating Area

Gardens are for more than just looking at. Make your zen garden functional with a beautiful seating area. Get creative with a bench seat and a fire pit, or keep it simple with a couple of chairs and a cute thrifted table.

How Much Space Does a Zen Garden Need?

Zen gardens don’t need much space at all. You can even make a mini one if you so desire. Whatever space you want can be your zen garden.

If you start with a smaller one outdoors, you can enclose it with some sort of fence or wall to make it feel secluded and more peaceful.

Are Zen Gardens Low Maintenance?

That is up to you. Traditionally, you don’t need to do much work in your zen garden except for some yearly maintenance such as raking the sand, weeding, filtering water, and plant trimming. However, you can reduce that maintenance even more by using artificial plants and gravel spaces.

Can I Have a Zen Garden Inside?

If you have the space, you can make a zen garden inside. These may cost more as you have to make a platform or space for the garden area, unless you are going for a miniature one.

An indoor zen garden is a great way to break up a room and add a peaceful space to the inside of your home.


Zen gardens are a great way to give yourself a place to relax and breathe a little. However, it can be intimidating to get started, especially if you think you need to buy everything brand new.

But there are plenty of ideas to get creative with your zen garden that doesn’t cost much. It’s possible to get your zen garden off the ground just by using materials found around your house such as old glass, stones, plants, windchimes, and lights.

If you follow the tips above, you’ll have the peaceful garden of your dreams, without breaking the bank.