Stress Rest: Make a Tabletop Zen Garden

This easy-to-create mini zen garden might help ward off stress.

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Zen gardens are traditionally carefully composed landscapes with arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes. Some also incorporate gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water. Since we all don’t have the time or patience to create a beautiful zen garden in our backyards, try this tabletop version.

two mini zen rock gardens

Tabletop Zen Rock Gardens

Tabletops zen gardens are relaxing to create and a fun way to add a bit of interest to your table.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe


plate, bowl, sand, smooth rocks and a bamboo skewer

Mini Zen Garden Supplies

Plates or bowls, sand, smooth rocks and a bamboo skewer are the materials needed to create a small, tabletop zen garden.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

  • bowl or plate
  • sand (any color)
  • river stones (any color)
  • bamboo skewer (or a mini rake if you can find one)

Craft supply stores have sand available in many colors. The finer sands will show designs better than the coarse ones. For this project, any color will do—go crazy!

Step 1

hand pouring black sand onto plate

Pour Sand Onto Plate of Zen Garden

Pour sand onto to a plate for the base of the zen garden.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Fill your plate of bowl with sand. Give the plate or bowl a gentle shake to get the sand to settle evenly over the surface. Use the bamboo skewer to push any grains of sand off the sides of the plate or bowl.

Step 2

hand placing white river stone on black sand

Place River Stone onto Zen Garden Sand

Place the river stones in a pattern on top of the black sand.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Arrange your rocks. In traditional zen gardens, the arrangement of stones is the most important part of the garden. In fact, here are very specific rules for stone arrangement in Japanese rock garden manuals. Place your stones mindfully with the best sides facing out. You can also place them randomly or in a specific pattern.

Step 3

hand drawing a line in black sand

Draw Ripples in Zen Garden Sand

Use a bamboo skewer to draw ripples in the sand.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Draw in your ripples. There's no right or wrong way to do this. Traditionally, the "raking" of the sand is suppose to look like water. The garden is meant to resemble a dry river. That's the great part about sand: if you don't like what your draw, it's just a simple shake to "erase" the pattern and start over.


white bowl filled with sand with a stack of three black rocks

Zen Rock Garden with Light Sand and Black Rocks

Use black rocks and white sand for one style of zen garden.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Try swapping out the sand and rock colors for a different look. Draw swirls instead of lines. There are so many ways to personalize your Zen garden.

white square plate with black sand and white rocks

Mini Zen Garden with Black Sand

Black sand offers a unique way to add contrast to your zen garden.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Zen gardens make great gifts. Make one for a friend who's having a rough week at work. Gifting a bit a Zen will make you feel great too.

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