Japanese Zen rock gardens provide a place for quiet reflection and contemplation. Their approach tends to be minimalist: making as strong a statement as one can with the fewest components. In a typical Japanese Zen rock garden, for instance, a few choice, carefully placed rocks might form a focal point, set off by a large expanse of tiny rocks or sand that serves as a mulch. The mulch can be raked to form an intricate yet simple pattern. Compared to the Western approach, plant material is de-emphasized.
In the West the interest in rock gardening began in the U.K. British travelers to the Swiss alps were fascinated by the alpine plants that they found there and brought some back to try to grow them at home. To this day, rock gardens are sometimes referred to as alpine gardens for this reason. Although we have now expanded upon what a rock garden can be, traditionally rock gardening meant the cultivation of mountain plants and other low-growing plants that can withstand the kind of winter cold to which true "alpine" plants are subjected.