Why Build a Zen Garden

"The best of nature's handiwork in a limited space."

My backyard was sloping and uneven. In addition, the need to pump water out of the basement into the wood lot behind my property continued to be an issue in need of a better solution - one that didn’t violate the property rights of my neighbors.

So, the idea of a wet-dry, Japanese style rock garden came to mind. The pictures below show the evolution of the project — from straight-edged classical stepping slope (I like straight lines), to meandering faux-stream bed (more naturalistic, and hence Japanese).

Summer 2014

I chose the latter after advice received from several friends who suggested I add some curves to my landscaping (thanks Phil) — much of which is dominated by geometrically straight 4x4 timbers (as I said earlier, I like straight lines).

I started initial work on the project in April of 2009, and with only a shovel and a wheelbarrow, and a lot of large stones acquired for free from a family source, I have transformed much of the backyard. First I dug the pit and used the dirt to level the uneven area directly in back of the house. Once level, I brought in gravel to make it solid, added weed barrier and toped it off with pea stone (very cheap compared to expensive brick). I then set up a gazebo on my new “poor man’s patio.” I continued to use dirt from the hole, which seemed to get deeper every day, to level off the remainder of the property extending to the end of the house. Grass was eventually planted in the fall.

I also built a retaining wall at the west end of the pit (near the gazebo). It looked nice and helped ensure that the hole, which had now grown considerably deep, would have a starting point that would not collapse.

It is at this west end that I installed an outlet pipe for the two sump pumps that are in my basement. Water generally pumps out in late March through mid April, depending on the amount of snow and rain that accumulates.

Initially, I intended to pump water into this pit as needed. In the summer of 2010 we never needed to pump - not enough snow or rain to be an issue. However, after a precipitation-laden 2010-2011 we found that we needed to pump a considerable amount of water in the spring. As a result, I had to channel the second pump back into the wood lot and leave only one pump connected to the garden. I try not to use the garden drainage too often, and only as a back up - it was a good idea, but without a direct drainage pipe into a town system, the garden can not handle large amounts of water regularly cycling through. Perhaps some day the town will extend the system to our street. When it does, I will connect the garden.

The remainder of the project has consisted of sculpting the pit, placing weed fabric, positioning edge stones and ornamental features, and laying #3 and #2 size gravel. Later I also planted some larger stones in the main bed to make it look more natural.

Phase II consisted of more planting in the fall of 2009. Phase III began in the spring of 2010 and resulted in additional plantings, a Japanese style fence, and the reworking of the remainder of the back yard.

Phase III started in the spring of 2011 and consisted of extending the fence, adding a Moon Window, and building a gate (see additional links in the blog menu).