• Welcome to Japanese Gardening Forums 日本の園芸フォーラム. Please login or sign up.
June 24, 2021, 04:14:32 AM


NOTICE:  JGO online resources will now be hosted by North American Japanese Garden Association. Learn more at https://najga.org/

Don Pylant, April, 2021

zen dry garden

Started by gilj, December 05, 2011, 04:01:09 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


I live in New Jersey  and have a 25x35 ft garden corner. I have visited Japan a couple of times and am fascinated by the dry rock gardens. In a typical Zen approach, I have pondered building one for the past 20 years, but I am ready to do it.
I built a stone wall around the area and have found white/grey gravel (3/8 inch). If I understand the process, my next step would be to find a few boulders (one tall, one smaller and one flat), position them with maybe a third below ground, lay a weed proof layer and the 2 inches of gravel. My problem is that I have visited many stone suppliers and can't find suitable boulders; most are too white or red. I'm looking for dark grey with maybe rough edges. I've read a few books and have many pictures of japanese gardens, but I make no pretense of understanding most of the Zen culture.
I would appreciate any suggestions on my plans.
Best regards,


Welcome to the forum Gil. It sounds like you have been planning your dry garden for some time.  You are fortunate to have visited Japan and I am sure you have given your plan much thought.  Perhaps someone on the forum living in the New Jersey area can suggest where you can find boulders for your garden.  We always enjoy sharing your journey and would love to see your stone wall.

Good luck.



Gil, welcome to the forum.
the suggestions I would make to your plans are quite simple:
I would like to recommend that you question the paradigm you have been introduced to (the 3 stones, one tall, and so on).
This is not really what a zen garden is about, or how or why it would be built. These three stones have also changed with each era of Japanese history. This suggests to me that if i was required to build a garden with only 3 stones, in what era would the placement find itself? Or would I avoid the traditional placements because I did not wish to relate to a specific 'era' of history to my garden.
having said that, if the 3 stone w. gravel sekitei (stone garden), is what means something deeply special to you, by all means build it as your arrangement would have been carefully thought through and would be appropriate to you..

That you do not have materials close by that are dark grey as you wish, encourages me to rethink a garden idea so that it can be built with red stones or whatever local materials. Red stones add dignity to a garden, grey causes the human brain to disengage from greyness. For the most part, zen gardeners I know work with what is available, and craft a garden around the materials and the 'idea' that the garden represents. Red stone will require greenery. Grey without greenery will be cold in the winter.
The scale worries me: 25 x 35 FEET.. huge space    ...     if you only have (only) 3 stones, no other materials, then the mass needs to be about 3 to 5 tonnes per stone. if you only have smaller stone, then an arrangement using more stone in that large of a space would feel much better. On the other hand, if you use no stones at all, and only rake two cones into being, then you will be better off than using 3 too small stones... work with the means, think through the reasons for using the pattern you are thinking of and what would have more meaning for you.

I would like to encourage you to check other resources about real Zen gardens, by Zen gardeners such as the following (work of Shunmyo Masuno):

please check the entire website, these are just some of his domestic work, and these are Zen gardens,      edzard


edzard-Thanks, you have given me much to think about. I have been fixated on the gardens I saw in Kyoto. You have opened up other possibilities that I need to consider. I will look at the website that you mentioned-gil


I was rereading your thoughtful comments about my zen gardening plans and I have a couple of questions. You wrote that my 25x35 ft space was "huge". Might there be some confusion because of my non-metric figures? The space is 9x11 meters. You also mentioned  3 to 5 tonnes of boulders, which makes me think that you are envisioning a much larger space, The boulders that I am considering are 300 to500 pounds (150-200 kilos).
Best regards,


 :)        Gil..
thanks for asking and pointing out where my writing may be confusing.
What would the specific density be of your stone selection? (lava rock?)(serious question actually)

If you have a choice of 3 stones, and only three stones (3), then (in my perception, for me) they would need to be of a substantial mass to be noticed and to do the job 'I think' you want the stones to do for you.
To clarify a bit better perhaps: there is always a minimum ratio of, say deciduous to coniferous trees in a garden. In similar manner there is a ratio of size/mass/weight of stone to use for a given volume of space.
My minimum in any of the 3 stone settings I can think of, would be stones that would end up being about: primary 2.5 -> 3 ton, secondary 1.7 to 2.25 ton and the tertiary stone, the flat one, about 1.0 to 2.0 ton depending on the pivot point you would use to express the dialogue in the stone. 30% to 40 % is buried.

If these were flat bottomed stone, with no need to bury them, then you could get away with about 3 tons of stone or 6000 lbs. And for me, the described stone setting feels 'meek' in a city environment.
here I would ask what the size and volume/mass is of the back-drop, buildings or otherwise.

Relative terms: for me, in my area, moderate quality stone of about 300 to 500 lbs would average, almost reach half way to my knees and be about 3 feet long by about 2 feet wide about 18inches thick. I feel, that more stone is needed or larger stone need be used, along with other ways of building up mass that would create space. (as you know: in a volume, materials, create the space)

Thank you for seeking clarification, and the metric to Imperial conversion, thoughtfully done. I do feel that the square footage is large for 3 stones of 500 pounds each. And, if done in grey, stone has a habit of vanishing as an illusionary perception.

the conundrum is this: we (we as centric thinking people) may think to use a specific size of stone,...

However, the space, the surroundings determine the size of the stone to be used, irregardless of the size of the volume to be filled. The surroundings, the existing site, determine the needed visual 'weight' of stone that is best to be used.

People-size stones, stones people select, reflect ourselves...          not Nature (or the Nature of the Site)
in your garden, do you wish to reflect yourself in relation to Nature? (stones are the people, small), or do you wish to reflect Nature?        something bigger than people? (in Zen, is not Nature predominant to man? or ? _______ <- your reading here.)       

btw: Is this a project? If so, then may I suggest that this conversation be continued in the Projects childboard?
(start with a photo of the site?)                        thanks     edzard