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DIY Miniature Zen Garden & Rosemary Bonsai

DIY Miniature Zen Garden & Rosemary Bonsai


Make your very own tiny slice of tranquility – a miniature zen garden. 

This tiny replica of a zen garden is really easy to make and is the perfect size to place just about anywhere.   Perch this on the corner of your messy desk and let it remind you to take a deep breath once in a while.

Before you get started on a mini zen garden, consider the necessary elements of the zen, or Japanese rock garden: sand, gravel and rock.

The sand or pebbles represent a body of water and the larger rocks, land.  In a zen garden the sand is raked to create  ripples of flowing water around the rock islands, forming soothing patterns.  There should be a balance between the peaceful, still water and the energy of the moving water.   Careful consideration should be taken when placing the rocks in your dry riverbed, they, too, should create a balance and a focal point.  If you plan to have a pathway in your garden, be sure to give it a graceful curve, since a straight pathway is considered too harsh and unnatural.

A faux bonsai made of rosemary is used in this mini Japanese garden.  Rosemary provides an excellent stand-in for a true bonsai tree and has many advantages:  it costs only pennies, it’s easy to grow,  it has a wonderful fragrance and it’s high on the cute factor.

When shopping for your rosemary, be sure to find one with a nice large center trunk.  With bonsai, the curvier, the better.  Not all rosemary grows alike – I searched through at least 9 plants before I found one with a good center trunk.

Now take small scissors, ( I used manicure scissors) and snip off  the smaller branches radiating  out of the center trunk.  Cut upwards for a few inches to give the plant a more tree-like look.  You can now shape up the tree by snipping the ends of some of the branches. You may want to look at photos of bonsai to get an idea of bonsai shapes.


This miniature garden was planted in a bonsai pot in keeping with the Asian flavor.  I covered the drainage holes with scraps of window screen.  Fill it up with potting soil and you are ready to go.

It’s a good idea to sketch out your plan for the zen garden before planting.

Plant the rosemary first because it will have the biggest root system. Shake off as much excess soil as you can from the root ball.

Next I pressed down the area for the pathway and riverbed.

Line the pathway with Hens and Chicks,  Sempervivum.  Sagina subulata, Irish Moss was planted in the near corner.


I cut this moss out of my lawn.  If you are lucky to have moss, use a flat shovel to carefully cut a slice out about one inch deep.  Soak in water at room temperature  to release some of the excess soil.  Use scissors to cut the moss in the shape needed around the rosemary bonsai (use your pattern). If you don’t happen to have moss in your yard, ask a neighbor.  Please don’t go out and harvest moss in public areas. You can use dried sheet moss purchased at a craft store, or you can purchase beautiful live moss for terrariums at Moss Acres.   Now add your stone border.  Add sand , large rock islands, stepping stones, mulch and a figurine or lantern if you like.  In this garden the stone border and stepping stones were made of  Sculpey clay and the mulch is ultra fine vanilla mulch.

Ahh, a tiny taste of tranquility.

The famous Saiho-ji  gardens of Kyoto, Japan designed by Muso Soseki a Zen Buddhist monk/poet/artist/gardener extraordinaire in the early 14th century are often cited as the standard for Zen gardens.    Soseki designed his gardens as a birds-eye view of  landscapes, so he was a miniature garden aficionado as well.  For inspiration, check out photos of this lush moss garden in the Moss Photo Gallery.

For an authentic Zen look, you need to use the right products.  Below is the buying information for the bonsai pots and figurines I used for this project.


Bonsai Figurines
Bonsai Pots



Want to try another miniature garden project?


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