Since moving late last year, John and I have been slowly but surely easing our way into our new roles as landscapers. Our previous home—a townhouse—was part of a home owner’s association, which (luckily for us) meant that our yard was maintained by a landscaping crew. But since we’re now living in a single family house with a front and back yard, we’ve had to learn through trial and error how to deal with growing grass, weeds, and out-of-control garden beds all on our own.
Case in point, the raised garden in our back yard. These photos below are from our inspection last September when we had a chance to take a long hard look at what we had gotten ourselves into. My mind, at the time, was focused squarely on the things that we needed to tackle inside, but now that we’ve passed the 1-year mark here in the house, I figured it was time to get this wild garden under control.
Given the fact that we are such newbies to landscaping, John and I ultimately decided that the best route (or should I say “root”!) to take was a simplified rock garden—a circular zen-inspired raised bed with just a few easy-to-maintain plants and no mulch to speak of. The first step, of course, was to rip everything out, and I mean everything.
It took about two hours one Saturday afternoon, but in the end, the circular bed was nothing more than a pile of well-turned dirt. This crappy iPhone photo below shows our destructive progress from the day. Oh, and yes, we decided to keep the existing rock border, so we just rolled those out of the way. We also discovered a couple of large hidden boulders in the process of clearing out the bed, so those, too, were rolled off to the side for our future zen garden.
Two weeks went by before I could convince my dad and sister to come help us with the finishing touches, but with the whole gang on site, we knocked out the planting and rock placement in just a few hours. In case you’re looking to create your own mostly-maintenance-free zen-inspired rock garden, I’m sharing the step-by-step process below.
How To Create A DIY Zen Garden
- Clear out your garden bed of any existing grass or plants.
- Dig holes for each tree or bush you plan to use, and plant them. We chose to include a Japanese Maple tree, Boxwood bush, and a small clump of Mondo Grass.
- Unroll individual lengths of weed barrier over the garden bed and maneuver them around your plants. Trim each to fit using sheers, and push pins through the fabric to secure it to the lawn. If incorporating a rock border like we did, roll these into place to further keep the weed barrier in place.
- Shovel gravel over the entire garden bed, covering the weed barrier. Be careful not to damage your tree trunks or small grassy plants in the process!
- Roll or place your large decorative rocks on top of the gravel to balance the look of the garden.
- Water the plants daily (unless it rains) for a month or two to help establish them in your new garden.
To say that we’re proud of our pretty new zen garden would be a major understatement. This is the first big landscaping project we’ve ever tackled, and it was so fun to flex our creative thinking muscles as we considered the low maintenance options. The other great thing about this garden is that it was practically free! We spent $30 on the weed barrier and pins, plus another $35 on the gravel, but the other rocks were already there in the original garden, and the plants were transplanted, either from our own yard somewhere else or from my parents’ house (thanks mom and dad!).
Have you ever tackled an at-home landscaping project before, or are you newbies like we are? I’ll just say this—if we can do it, anyone can.