How to Build a Rock Garden in Four Steps

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How to Build a Rock Garden in Four Steps

Jordan Gaither · Oct 28, 2009

Rock gardens, otherwise known as Zen Gardens or karesansui, are an ancient Japanese tool for relaxation and meditation. They are usually made from giant pits dug into the ground and filled with sand and several large rocks. The following article will give you a comprehensive guide on how to build a rock garden better suited to an apartment in four easy steps.

Step 1: Choose Your Space

Chances are your apartment doesn’t have a whole lot of extra room for things like rock gardens, which is why it’s important to carefully choose the place you’re going to build one. They’re meant to relax you, so don’t put it in a frustrating place!

Choose an open, uncluttered space to build your Japanese rock garden, preferably outside on your porch or balcony. Make sure you not only have enough room for the garden, but also for yourself to move around it while you’re raking.

Note: Not all Japanese rock gardens are raked. Sometimes, they’re built specifically for beauty and nothing else. If this is the kind of rock garden you’re building, disregard all the information about raking in this article.

Step 2: Building the Form

Since you can’t very well create a deep pit capable of holding tons of sand in your apartment, you’ll have to build a smaller box-like form to hold your rock garden.

Start by visiting a local hardware store or lumberyard and purchasing a flat sheet of square or rectangular plywood and four strong wooden planks. The lengths of these will depend on what size you determined in step 1 would be correct for your garden, but the planks should be at least two inches thick and six inches wide to allow for enough sand.

Start by nailing the planks together at right angles to create a square or rectangular shape. Next, attach the sheet of plywood to the chosen underside with nails, and fill the space between plywood and plank with rubber cement, wood epoxy or conventional glue. Make sure the seal is completely watertight, since any gaps will result in a messy pile of sand.

Step 3: Creating a Basic Rock Garden

To complete your generic rock garden, fill the completed form with enough sand to leave at least an inch and a half of open space at the top. Make sure the sand is leveled off; it should resemble a flat sea when you’re done, not a mountain.

Add in several medium-sized rocks to complete the rock garden, but be sure to gauge the size of the rocks carefully. You should be able to move your rake, hand trowel or large-toothed comb around them easily without banging into them.

Step 4: Customizing your Rock Garden

To make your rock garden more unique, try decorating the outside of the wooden forms either by painting on them or carving designs into the wood itself. Japanese designs would be the most accurate, but as it’s your rock garden feel free to decorate it however you want!

You can also substitute small statues for the rocks, or find unique rocks at your local state park, beach or cave system. Try to avoid brightly colored rocks, statues or geodes, as they will create visual stimulus and detract from the rock gardens ability to relax your mind.

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Jordan Gaither: I’m a Communications major by trade, an artist by choice, a welder by day and a dancer by night (Okay, I made that last part up). Having lived in a succession of cramped, oddly-shaped apartments, I have a wealth of personal experience in apartment living, as well as arranging and decorating to maximize effect and livable space.

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