The Japanese term for a Zen garden that uses only rocks and gravel is "karesansui," which means "dry landscape." The gardener places rocks in a bed of gravel in strategic locations to symbolize islands and mountains, and rakes the gravel to suggest flowing water. Despite its simple construction, a Zen garden requires maintenance to keep the raked lines crisp and to control vegetation that may grow through the gravel. This becomes a daily meditation practice for the gardener.
A well-contructed Zen garden is an evocative work of art that draws the viewer into a state of contemplation. Because of the symbolism associated with the placement of the rocks and gravel, questions arise concerning the gardener's intended meaning. This meaning is elusive in the best gardens, such as the one at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, and the viewer's mind eventually comes to rest in a state of emptiness, which is the goal of Zen practice.