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What Type of Gravel Is Needed for a Zen Garden?

Lorna Hordos
Japanese rock gardens are walked through, while Zen gardens are viewed from specific points.

Although you could plant a few nonflowering shrubs in a Zen garden, they are not necessary -- it’s more about creating an abstract, minimalist, mostly barren "sea" for meditative viewing, using mostly gravel and a few sculptural or statuesque rocks. But not all gravel -- or rocks -- are kid-friendly. With the right color, texture, type and sized materials, your visually peaceful garden will be one the whole family can enjoy.


The gravel’s color is essential to creating the garden’s relaxing aura -- it should be easy on the eyes. A neutral, pale gray or tan gravel would be easy to look at for extended periods compared to the brightness of white gravel, for example.


Gravel size plays an integral part in a Zen garden. Choose a material that is small enough -- about 1/3 inch in diameter -- for your rake to easily comb through, while leaving a visible trail or lines from the rake’s tines. Gravel is a better choice than sand because wind and rain will not disturb the designs.

Stone Type

Gravel varies by stone type. Although the choices include lava rock fragments, limestone chips, river gravel and pea gravel, some types, such as scratchy lava, may not be appropriate. Consider the material's texture for a dry landscape garden that even young family members can enjoy.


It’s never too soon to learn to appreciate simple beauty. If your kids will sometimes help you rearrange the garden, the gravel texture important for artistic purposes and ease of arrangement and also for safety. Choose smooth gravel, such as pea gravel or river gravel worn smooth from years of polish by other rocks, sand and water -- the smoother the gravel, the less chance of injury. Place a few large yet manageable rocks in your garden setting to represent mountains, trees or islands, for example. Consider a Zen "sandbox" with apple-sized rock "islands" and a pea gravel "sea" for younger children to arrange and rearrange, using a toy rake.