Japanese Zen Gardens for Kids

Sen Rikyu, a Japanese tea master and garden designer, said, "Have a boy or old man sweep the paths and moss, they will be in a hurry and leave some leaves or debris, this makes the garden look more natural." Keep this natural spirit in mind when creating a Japanese-style garden with children. A Tsuboniwa, or small garden, is a great way to introduce kids to Japanese gardening. Rocks, gravel and trees make a Japanese garden a low-maintenance introduction to the art of gardening.

Layout and Design

Choose an area of ground to work with and measure it. Use graph paper and sketch out the area to be developed. Work with your child to decide where rocks, paths and plants will go in the garden. Very young children may sketch their ideas onto paper that the adult transfers into the gardening plans. Older children will enjoy learning how to use the graph paper to show how the final garden should look. A few moments of planning will help everyone involved in the project keep working in the same direction. Keep in mind that in a tsuboniwa, less in more; a small space can be quickly overpowered by too many large elements.

Stone Arrangements

Stone arrangements are a dominant feature in Japanese garden designs. Incorporating a karesansui, or dry stream garden, provides the soothing feel of water without the maintenance needed for a water garden. Stones and gravel come in a wide variety of colors. Let your young gardener help choose which colors will be used in their garden. Choices range from natural colors to vivid pinks, blues and purples, depending on the types of gravel chosen. Begin by placing an odd number of large stones in an attractive arrangement. It is helpful to have stones that are different sizes. Place gravel around the stones. Gravel can be left natural or raked into patterns. Children enjoy changing the different patterns in the gravel. A metal gardening rake can be used to create many beautiful designs.

Paving and Stepping Stones

Use paving or stepping stones to create a path leading to the larger stone arrangement. This path will provide a natural design element and a great place to play jumping games which kids are naturally drawn too. Think of the path as a stream leading to a larger lake where the larger stones are placed.

Trees and Grasses

Trees chosen for a tsuboniwa garden should be trees that are slow growing, shade-tolerant and easy to prune. Choose a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees. Depending on the space, your garden may be limited to only one tree or as many as five, but, unlike a park garden, the number of trees will be limited by the smaller space. Ornamental grasses bring texture, color and a variety of heights to a Zen garden. Most are also very hardy. Clumping grasses will grow some but will not overrun the garden space. Running grasses, like bamboo, have the potential to take over the small space. Keep running grasses contained by planting them in their container to limit spreading.

Using the Garden

A garden, like a child, is always growing and changing. The Zen garden that your child begins this year will grow, develop and mature with your child. Have fun and enjoy the process of gardening rather than expecting a picture perfect garden the first year. Allow your child to use the space for active play and restful thinking. Time spent climbing on rocks, raking patterns in gravel, and lying in a bed of moss looking at clouds are all perfect uses of the garden space

Keywords: Japanese garden, Zen gardening, children's garden

About this Author

Jamie Hobbs graduated from Central Washington University with a BAed. She has been writing for Demand Studios and Suite 101 since 2008. Mrs. Hobbs work has also been printed in Yakima Family Times.