I’ve been meaning to make a tabletop zen garden for a while now, but never seemed to have time. Then I realized that I should make time to play in the sandbox – even if it’s on a miniature scale, because small but pleasureable pursuits like this are calming, healthy and fun.
Serene relaxation is the main purpose of any zen garden, and the small versions are a great way to pause for a moment, meditate and de-stress.
by Jane Lake
Choose a Zen Garden Theme
If you are making your zen garden as a homemade gift, you can tailor the theme to suit the recipient. I chose a beach and seashell theme, but popular themes include water gardens, golf, pebbles, rocks, or seasonal whimsy.
Seashell Salad Bowl Zen Garden
I used a large acrylic salad bowl as the container for my seashell zen garden as this allows viewing from every side of my kitchen breakfast bar.
To make your own version, start by simply pouring in about an inch of sand; this can be play sand, beach sand, colored or fine sand. Fine sand allows for more detailed raking patterns. I was a little shy on sand, so I added about a cup of finely crushed white egg shells as well, which look like the fine pieces of seashells you often see on the beach.
Next, add some simple elements – a few special seashells, sea glass, starfish, polished stones or river pebbles.
Finally, add a rake – I used a small rake that came with a miniature garden set, but you can buy little zen rakes made especially for miniature zen gardens, or make your own.
Tabletop Zen Containers, Elements and Rakes
You will need a shallow container for your zen garden – more traditional designs are made from wood, but you can make do with glass or acrylic bowls, ceramic pie plates, or serving trays that are made from metal, wood, bamboo, plastic or melamine, providing the sides are deep enough to contain the sand.
Other options include making your own shallow container to the exact dimensions that you want, or simply using a cardboard box top, such as those used for shoe boxes.
Shoe box tops, as it turns out, are much desired when you’re about to teach thirty 4th graders about Japanese zen gardens, then embarking on a creative classroom adventure by showing them how to make their own, as Veronica Montes describes in Nesting Ground.
If you’re really pressed for space, or just adore miniature anything, then check out Kate’s Miniature Tin Gardens, including a simple zen version, made from Altoids tins.
The elements are those things that you add to your shallow container of sand – the things that you look at, play with, and move around with the rake. They might represent special memories, places, spaces, or scenery, or simply be beautiful in their own right. Depending upon the mood that you wish to evoke with your zen garden, you can include a little touch of whimsy, sentiment, or humour.
Miniature elements, such as those made for doll houses, or scrap booking, can be incorporated into your theme. So can individual items that you have collected on nature walks or holidays, such as tiny pine cones, acorns, seed pods, sea glass or seashells. Twigs, or small pieces of driftwood make great additions, as do broken pieces of shells with a mother-of-pearl sheen. Some of your natural elements will attract because of their shape; others because of their hue or shine; still others, because of their special meaning to you. This is one craft project where individual creativity is encouraged, and what “feels right” is probably exactly right for you.
You can buy miniature Zen Rakes from Amazon or other online sources, make your own from balsa wood and dowel, or improvise with anything of the right scale that will work as a rake to smooth or texture the sand. Try cutting down a backscratcher, gluing a small hair comb to a piece of dowel or, for group projects, buy a pack of sturdy plastic forks.