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Make Your Own Tabletop Zen Garden

Quarantine and isolation got you down?  Are you finding it difficult to relax or calm your nerves in these trying times?  Are you looking for a little pocket of space you can control and relax in?  Learn how to make your very own tabletop Zen garden with affordable materials that will give you a minioasis inside your home.  Zen gardens provide a visually appealing place to relax and enjoy cultivating your very own miniescape right on your tabletop.   

What is a Zen garden? 

The forerunners of modern Zen gardens popped up during the Song Dynasty period of Japanese history (c960-1279).  Originally Zen gardens functioned as religious sites, used to symbolize Mt. Penglai.  Mt. Penglai was the home of immortals in Chinese mythology.  

This and other information about the Chinese mythology represented in Zen gardens can be found by visiting this site. 

Zen gardens evolved over time into an approximation of what we see today most apparently at temples dedicated to Zen Buddhism in Kyoto during the Muromachi period (c1336-1573).  They were intended to imitate the intimate essence of nature, not its actual appearance, and to serve as an aid to meditation about the true meaning of life.  Zen gardens are not merely gardens full of rocks and sand; they serve as a visual representation of Japanese history, culture, and art.   

For more information on the history of Japanese Zen gardens, visit this site. 

Materials needed 

These are the basic materials you will need to construct your very own Zen garden: 

Vessel

For mine, I have chosen a clear squared plastic bowl like the one pictured below.  These bowls were available online in packs of 20 and worked well for my purposes.  Use whatever kind of bowl or vessel you like to contain your Zen garden. 

Sand

Crafting sand can be found in most dollar and craft stores, usually for about $1 per bag.  These bowls hold about 4 bags of the craft sand I purchased. 

In traditional outdoor Zen gardens, gravel or sand is raked into patterns to represent ripples in water. 

White sand is the color most commonly used in Zen gardens as it allows the raking patterns to clearly show.  

Rake

Because we are making table-top miniature versions of a real Zen garden, I had to improvise for a rake. 

These collapsible mini back scratchers were available online for about $1 apiece, and work perfectly for sculpting your tabletop Zen garden. 

If you can’t obtain one of these, a fork will work as well.  

Rocks

Traditional Zen gardens have very strict procedures for selecting and placing rocks, but those have laxed over time.   

For my version, I found packs of crafting rocks for $1 apiece.  One pack will likely suffice, as they contain a good number of rocks to use.  

This might be a good place for your Kindness Rock.

Air plants (optional). To give my Zen garden a bit more of the outdoor feel, I purchased some air plants to add to my tabletop Zen garden.  

Air plants are small grass-like flowering plants that can survive on very little water (typically requiring only about 30 minutes submerged once a week) and no soil. 

They can thrive on sand and driftwood.  

Put it all together 

1. Fill your vessel with sand. Allow yourself some room at the top for raking, rock placement, and landscaping.  

2. Arrange your rocks in a pleasing patternPile them, spiral, spaced out: whatever looks and feels good to you.    

3. Use your rake to create your inner Zen.  Make spiral patterns, waves, etc. 

4. Place your plants, driftwood, and any other decorative items in your Zen garden. 

Enjoy! 

Learn more about Zen gardens 

Check out these sites for more information on what Zen gardens are and how to create one: 

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/spaces/japanese-zen-gardens.htm 

https://www.gardenista.com/posts/10-ideas-to-steal-from-japanese-zen-gardens/ 

https://www.thespruce.com/zen-garden-4580499 

https://www.diynetwork.com/made-and-remade/make-it/tabletop-zen-garden