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7 Simple Steps to a DIY Zen Garden

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Zen gardens allow us to imitate the intimate essence of nature. Created first in the Zen Buddhism temples of Kyoto in Japan, they help the mind relax and aid meditation. This indoor garden is more of a dry landscape that is stylized and has a carefully composed arrangement of rocks, moss, pruned trees, gravel, sand and sometimes water.

The garden is designed to represent little islands made of rocks that are present in the sea of sand. The sand is carefully manicured to represent the ripples and waves of water. This representation of water in its stillness is meant to resemble peace and tranquility of the mind. These tranquil scenes were said to have been used by Buddhist monks to stroll and contemplate on teachings of the Buddha.

The primary difference between a Zen garden and another indoor garden is its lack of living elements, except for moss or a little grass. Because of this, it requires little maintenance.

A DIY Zen garden is easier than you think! If you have the basic building materials ready, you’ll just need to think of an interesting arrangement to get your miniature Zen garden started.

Frame your garden with a wooden pallet

The size of your garden will depend on the space you have. You can go as small as an 8x10-inch garden that can be kept on a windowsill, or have a part of your living room dedicated to the arrangement. There is really no shortage of Zen garden arrangement ideas as you’ll find inspiration from your own style.

Choose the location of your garden. Ideally, having one by the window or balcony where it catches the sun but is not fully exposed is a great place. Once you’ve zeroed in, frame the space with wooden pallets. You can use both fresh and recycled pallets to create an enclosure for the sand. Use pallets to also form the base of the garden. Be sure to pack them tightly so that the sand doesn’t spill over.

Add clean white sand

Zen Garden , glass floor Minimalist living room by The White Room Minimalist
The White Room

Zen Garden , glass floor

The White Room

Sand forms the core element of the garden. You can buy it online or at local stores that stock aquarium supplies. Mild coarse sand works well for a miniature Zen garden as it holds its shape easily. The 14 mm silver-grey granite chips are ideal as they are less likely to be moved by wind or rain. You can choose a mix of 6 mm and 14 mm chips which can give your garden a great texture. These would be available by pounds or kilos depending on how many bags you need. You can also intersperse the sand with white gravel for added texture and design.

Place a few select stones and rocks

Rocks form the inspiration in Zen garden arrangement ideas. It is easy to get carried away and place many, but show restraint and use only a few, instead playing around more with their arrangement. If you intend to co-use your garden as a seating area, place textured stepping stones to create a pathway. You may not be actually walking on these unless you use fine sand to keep them firm.

Most Zen gardens have one big ‘anchoring’ rock around which the other elements are set. You can choose the size and shape of a rock available locally and add it to your garden. Alternatively, decorative smooth rocks are also available for purchase at aquarium stores.

This beautiful Zen design is a creation of Verre et Vitrail based in Sommieres, France.

Add some green with home-grown moss

Though plants and living organisms are not an active part in traditional Zen gardens, indoor Zen garden ideas can be customized to your tastes. Moss has been used in Zen gardens to tastefully accentuate its symbolic value. While the stones represent mountains, moss represents islands in the sand. Unlike other greens, the calm and vibrant quality of moss adds to the sense of tranquility with its stillness.

You can grow your own moss by blending a mix in equal parts of buttermilk, water and existing moss (dead or alive) and painting it over the stones where you wish the moss to grow. It’ll take a few weeks during which you’ll have to keep the stone moist. Moss doesn’t attract insects so you’ll have very little maintenance once it is set.

Make a bonsai feature

A great addition to your DIY Zen garden is placing a bonsai tree in a corner. Bonsai has a strong association with Japanese culture and gardens the world over have popularized this as a must-have addition to a Zen garden. Growing bonsai is an art that requires patience – which is why its symbolic presence makes it among the top Zen garden arrangement ideas.

Juniper bonsai trees are considered the easiest for beginners. They grow more slowly but require less care. Place your bonsai where it gets bright but indirect or filtered sunlight.

Want a truly astounding bonsai? Go for one that levitates. We aren’t kidding! A crowdfunding project in the making, there exists a bonsai plant base with in-built magnet that helps the plant stay afloat!

Add water and a lotus flower

The lotus takes on great spiritual and cultural significance in several communities. It symbolizes purity, tranquility and the ability of a calm mind to rise above the obstacles represented by the murky water it grows in. If the area receives sufficient sun, you can grow your own lotus plant from seed. It will take time a patience (which is why it fits the Zen theme). The pot in which you place the lotus plant should be at least two feet in diameter and one foot and a half in depth.

If you live in an area where there is a regular supply of lotuses, you can simply add the flower to the pot instead of having to tend to the plant. Do keep in mind that still water attracts algae and will require regular cleaning.

Create a river in the sand

The most fun, inspirational and interesting part of a Zen garden is its river and the patterns carved out in the sand. The DIY way to do it is using a fork, pen, butter knife, wooden stick or pencil. You will need to first smooth the sand with a roller and then carve out ripples and patterns. What you carve forms the base of your imagination and inspiration.

You can purchase authentic Japanese rakes in different sizes to draw out your patterns and periodically change them to reflect your mindset. At the end of the day, these should be able to calm your mind and streamline your thoughts.

For more indoor Zen garden ideas, consult a local Japanese cultural center as they can provide extra expertise. For more brilliant DIY garden inspiration, head over to Small gardens and courtyards: 7 charming ideas.

Which Zen element would you like in your home? Do you have any mini garden tips? Let us know in the comments!
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