How to Create a Zen Garden on Your Balcony

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The following article will give you some background information and building tips to show you how to create a Zen Garden.

Firstly, if you’re a stickler for correctness, “Zen Gardens” are actually called Rock Gardens or karesansui in Japanese. For this article, however, we’ll call them by their given Western name, Zen Garden.

Zen Gardens are pits of sand with several large rocks placed like islands throughout. To feel at peace, the owner of a Zen Garden gently rakes the sand in long, wavy lines to symbolize the waves of the sea. This technique has been used for centuries to create a feeling of peace and tranquility.

Choosing a Space

Apartments don’t traditionally have a huge balcony for you to put things on, so choosing your space is an important first step. If you have furniture like chairs or a table out there, consider moving them to one side, or even setting up your Zen Garden on the tabletop (if you don’t use it too often for other things).

Chances are you won’t be able to create anything larger than 3’x 3’, so just make sure you have enough room to move comfortably around your Zen Garden.

Building the Garden

A real Zen Garden is a large pit carved from the ground and filled with thousands of pounds of sand and huge rocks. For your purposes, a smaller box structure will be required.

First, determine how much space you’ll have available for your garden. You should be able to find a flat sheet of plywood and four planks measuring roughly 1 inch thick and 6 inches wide at your local lumbar yard or hardware store, as well as sand, nails, and a hammer if necessary.

Find or cut the planks to the desired length, and nail them into a box or rectangle shape. Note: If you are familiar with woodwork, you could cut the corners at angles for a more pleasing appearance.

When the box or rectangle structure is finished, nail the flat sheet of plywood to the bottom, being careful to avoid exposing any sharp nail ends. Use some wood epoxy or glue to seal the edges between the plywood and the planks, since failing to do so will eventually lead to sand leaks.

Filling Your Garden

Once construction is completed, fill your Zen Garden with the sand you picked up, making sure to level the sand as much as possible. You want it to look like a flat ocean when you’re done, not a mountain.

Where you get the rocks from is entirely up to you, and can be a great way to customize your garden. You can buy decorative rocks at most local gardening stores, but it might be more personal to dig up rocks from your own yard, or find some in the woods or at the beach (depending on where you live). Don’t choke your garden with a bunch of rocks; depending on the size you have, two to five should be plenty.

Zen Gardening Technique

Now that your garden is complete, you can relax and enjoy it. Using a small rake, hand trowel, or even a large-toothed comb, rake the sand around the rocks in long, smooth strokes toward you.

Let your mind wander, your body relax and your tension unwind.

Jordan Gaither: I’m a Communications major by trade, an artist by choice, a welder by day and a dancer by night (Okay, I made that last part up). Having lived in a succession of cramped, oddly-shaped apartments, I have a wealth of personal experience in apartment living, as well as arranging and decorating to maximize effect and livable space.

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