Zen is a specific path of Buddhism that emphasizes the importance of meditation and quiet contemplation, but you certainly don't need to be a Buddhist to enjoy the benefits of a Zen-inspired garden. A Zen garden is a type of "dry landscape" that's been appreciated in Japan for many centuries. Flowers are rare in a Zen garden, instead garden designers rely on muted color schemes intended to relax the mind. It's a place where simple, natural elements are valued over complicated construction. Every aspect of a Zen garden should have meaning, and the overall effect should create a harmony that appeals to everyone who visits the garden.
Size and Site
You can immediately reduce the cost of your Zen garden by scaling down the size. All that's really needed to capture the serenity of a traditional Zen garden is a small pocket of tranquility where visitors can enjoy the simplicity of quiet meditation. Instead of designing your Zen garden in a central area of your landscape, select a space that's naturally hidden away from the other activities that happen in your yard or a place that would be easy to screen off with a few shrub.
Select a Budget Focus
Traditionally, specific elements should be included in a Zen garden: rocks, pebbles or sand, water, plants, a bridge or path, and lanterns. Any of these elements can be represented symbolically. Instead of installing a costly water feature and purchasing expensive landscape boulders and planting a selection of greenery, select one element to be the financial focus of your Zen garden. For example, if you just must have a beautiful boulder that uses up most of your budget, save money by using raked sand to represent water or buy one stunning specimen plant and use palm-sized rocks you collected at the river.
Take Your Time
A Zen garden isn't the kind of project that's supposed to be created in a weekend. Taking your time can save a lot of money. Inquire about damaged and discounted bags of sand and gravel at the home improvement store and search online or print ads for people who are selling or giving away free fill dirt, rocks and sand. The special objects in your Zen garden should have personal meaning to you and lead your thoughts to a quiet, peaceful place. After building the main structure of your garden, take your time in collecting the important pieces. In other words -- practice being Zen. With patience, you can wait for the right objects and materials to come your way at a price you can afford.
The nature of a Zen garden lends itself to a small budget. Of course, you could spend a fortune on an antique Japanese lantern or bonsai trees imported from Japan, but showmanship for its own sake negates the point of a Zen garden. Don't crowd the garden with every awesome object d' art you can find. Asymmetry is important to the harmonious design of a Zen garden, and objects are often displayed in groups of three. The number three represents the Buddhist trinity or the three bodies of Buddha. Using three boulders instead of seven or one azalea shrub instead of five will not only save money, restraint may also help you create a more harmonious garden.