Build your own Tabletop Zen Garden



My first job when I graduated from an advertising and public relations diploma course at college was working at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens. It was a combination job of both media and tour guiding. As a new grad I was excited about doing something related to what I had just taken in school.  I was perhaps just as excited about wearing around a Yukata (Japanese house dress) and the special socks (I called them my Ninja socks). However, when I actually started working there I became excited about how cool the gardens really are.

My favourite part of the garden is the special rock and sand garden inside the house courtyard. Back then I loved having discussions with my fellow workers about how they got out of there without messing up the sand! Frankly, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me.

Japanese rock gardening has a long history. The Japanese rock garden (枯山水karesansui), also called a Zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes.  The gravel or sand is raked to represent ripples in water.

Zen gardens are for meditation and are filled with symbolism. Stones represent islands.  Lines in the sand represent water, waves, seas or rivers.  Moss represents forests. The motion of raking the sand is calming.  Here’s the steps I followed to make a mini Japanese rock garden at home:

First step: Find a container. You need something that is watertight. It has to hold small granules of sand and water. I looked all around and eventually found this square tin container at Canadian Tire. It has little handles and was just big enough to sit in the middle of my kitchen table.

Second step: Find the sand. This was harder than I expected. After trying both gardening shops and hobby shops I finally found some in the pet store in the aquarium section. They had different sized granules but I wanted it to be pretty fine so that the rake would work well.

Third Step: Find the rocks. I was originally just going to go outside and see what I could find, but while at the pet store they were selling the kind I had envisioned in my head- perfectly round ones. So I picked up a couple there, and felt a little silly paying for rocks.

Four step:  Find moss and tools. Moss is actually not easy to find. After multiple attempts and debating whether to get artificial moss or not I ended up getting the real stuff at a Country Blooms Nursery.  There are, in fact, 22,000 kinds of moss worldwide. I ended up getting Scotch Moss and I love the look of it. My small garden tools I found at Peavy Mart. I saw them when I was buying terrarium items and had them in the back of my head for a Zen Garden. They are the perfect size and all of my kids were very excited seeing them.

Fifth Step: Put it all together. I put a layer of sand to cover the bottom of the container. Then added in my rocks and twisted them ever so slightly to help them sink into the sand. 

Photo: Rhonda Steed

Following that I added my moss on top. I raked waves and my four-year-old daughter watched me immediately asking me if she could do it too. Since then, all of my kids have spent time making various designs in the sand. My 11-year-old spent about 20 minutes working on our little Zen garden and announced, “This is really calming to me.” So I’m guessing it’s doing its part in our home.

I’m going to take my kids to the grand opening this upcoming weekend at the Nikko Yuka Japanese gardens in Lethbridge so that my kids can see the big Zen garden and we can chat about how the gardeners do the raking without leaving a step.

Ready to relax even more? Read about the Highway to Heaven in Richmond.

ZenSeekers contributor Rhonda Steed learnt from the Zen masters at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens in Lethbridge.  The attraction is a part of a #BucketListAB tour you and your crew can experience this summer, visit and follow Rhonda’s travels on Instagram @justrhondaleetravels

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