Zen gardens are one of the most breathtaking sights you’ll ever see. These special areas were originally created in Japan to assist Zen Buddhist monks with daily meditation and introspection. Monks raked the sand every day to maintain its distinct pattern and discourage vegetation growth. They would also spend time in a specific spot in the garden to observe, reflect and meditate. Although we may not have the time and space to create and maintain a traditional zen garden, we can still engage in this practice and reap the benefits with our own mini zen gardens.
Many people like to keep tabletop zen gardens on their work desks to take a mindfulness break during the day while others like to display them in living areas to give guests a tranquil activity to do. Raking patterns in the sand and rearranging rocks helps increase mindfulness, making mini zen gardens a great activity to unwind during times of stress and doubt, or even periods of success. Engaging in these activities is a great way to clear our minds and reflect on our thoughts.
To help you get started, we’ve put together all of the info you’ll need to create your own mini zen garden. Putting together a simple garden only takes a few materials and a small portion of your time. Our guide includes an in-depth materials list, detailed steps and some styling ideas so you can draw inspiration for your own DIY zen garden.
Mini Zen Garden Materials
Before we dive into the materials you’ll need, let’s take a look at the symbolism of traditional zen garden elements to better understand their importance.
Sand zen gardens are called “karesansui” gardens or “dry landscape” gardens. This is because traditional zen gardens don’t include plants or water features in order to achieve abstraction and promote feelings of tranquility and calm. As such, the placement of the stones and sand in zen gardens has lots of meaning and intention. Stones represent things such as islands, mountains and trees while sand patterns represent flowing water.
Although this is the traditional approach to a zen garden, you don’t need to stick with these elements for your garden. Contemporary mini zen gardens feature modern elements such as colored sand, mini trees and even decorative trinkets. Feel free to add a few fun accents to make this project your own, but keep in mind that you are creating a relaxing and mindful space and everything you add should complement those emotions. In other words, distracting neon-colored sand and bright LED lights may not be the best things to add if you want to maintain your garden’s tranquility.
- Mini rake – Some craft stores sell mini rakes made specifically for mini zen gardens. Other alternatives include mini back scratchers, skewers, toothpicks and forks depending on the look you’re trying to achieve. You can also DIY your own rake.
- Container – Your mini zen garden container really depends on your own personal taste. A glass container is great for an elegant approach to the traditional zen garden while a wood box takes a more natural route. We used a small round container.
- Sand – Fine grain sand show patterns better, but you can also add a fun twist with colored sand. Pick up sand at craft stores.
- Plants – Air plants are popular plant choice for zen gardens since they don’t require soil to grow. Other popular plants include succulents, moss and mini trees. Pick varieties that are compact and don’t grow too tall. Plants that thrive in zen gardens include foliage that spreads on the ground and keeps a low profile. Check your specific plant’s care guidelines to make sure they can thrive in a zen garden setting. We mention a few zen garden plant tips in the steps below.
- Essential oils (optional) – Add your favorite essential oils to enhance the relaxing benefits of your mini zen garden. You can add a few drops directly to the sand.
- Stones – Use outdoor stones if you want to give your zen garden an authentic, natural look. Just remember to clean them prior to placing them in your garden. You can also pick up polished stones or gravel at craft stores. Geodes and crystals are popular alternatives to traditional stones because of their energy boosting and healing properties.
Mini Zen Garden DIY Steps
Step 1: Fill your container with sand and essential oils.
Pour the sand in your container and shake it from side to side to even it out. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oils if you want an aromatic mini zen garden. You can also add a few drops of JoJoba oil at this time to give your sand a wet look and make your sand patterns stand out.
Step 2: Place stones and trinkets in your garden.
Stones are one of the most important aspects of a zen garden. You can place a group of them in one corner of the garden or place them far apart. Take some time to think about what you’d like the stones to represent and how their placement will affect your sand patterns. Intention is great, but don’t think too hard! You can always change the arrangement later if you want to mix things up.
Decorative trinkets are great for personalization, especially if you’re giving this as a gift, but don’t go overboard and overshadow your garden with towering pieces. Place additional decor wherever you feel it enhances the peaceful atmosphere.
Step 3: Add plants for a touch of green.
Plants aren’t a part of traditional zen gardens, but they are a great way to bring in other elements of nature.
If you’re planning to have live plants (besides air plants) in your garden, place a divider around the area you’ll place your plant before you pour the sand. You can wait until the end to add your air plants. Once you’ve divied up the space, add some rocks along the bottom of the plant’s area prior to adding the soil to help the water drain out when watering the plant.
Alternatively, you can keep your plant and its soil in a paper cup. To place the cup in your garden, first pour in just enough sand to snugly secure the cup. Then, add more sand on top to cover the cup.
It’s especially important in a mini zen garden not to overwater your plant. Since your container won’t have drainage holes — the openings normally found in plant pots to help keep roots from sitting in water — your soil can’t drain as well, and your plant is susceptible to drowning if overwatered. If you ever overwater your plant, replace its soil with a fresh batch and keep an extra eye on the plant while it adapts to its new home. Pull up our guide to reviving a plant for more in-depth instructions if this happens to you.
Step 4: Create your sand pattern with a mini rake or skewer.
Since this is a mini zen garden, you can rake the patterns however many times you want. The raking is a great mindfulness practice and can ease the mind when you need to destress or process your thoughts.
Now you have a mini zen garden you can call your own! Place it in your room to start and end your day with a clear head or keep it in your living room to give everyone a chance to practice mindfulness. You can even create a few to gift to your loved ones. Take a look at some of our ideas below to see how to personalize mini zen gardens for all of the people in your life!
Mini Zen Garden Ideas and Inspo
There are lots of ways to personalize your mini zen garden and create a custom look. If you’re giving this as a gift, you can get sand in the recipient’s favorite color or include meaningful stones and accessories in the garden. You can also use your zen garden to represent a setting that is personally peaceful to you. If you like the beach, you can use cleaned seashells from instead of stones. We created three different mini zen gardens below to help you find inspiration for your garden.
You’re now on your way to becoming a more mindful version of yourself with this mini zen garden. Place your garden in any space in your home or office where you feel everyone can use it the most. Then, be like the monks and make it a part of your daily routine. Whether that means tracing over sand patterns just like the monks or routinely creating new patterns — the choice is up to you!
You can add even more tranquility in your home with a few complementary plants. Plants are shown to have lots of benefits to our health and well-being, just like mini zen gardens. This is why office plants are popular in many workplaces. If you’re looking to add some serenity at home, take a look at our list of plants that help you sleep and our list of medicinal plants to see what plants you’ll need to create a peaceful and healthful home.