Sometimes, life feels like a game of whack-a-mole. You finish one thing, and something else pops up. You finish that thing, and then something else pops up. It’s a frustrating, dizzying, tear-inducing game, and you need to stop. Relax. Gaze upon a mini Zen garden.
There’s something about ripples–maybe the way they seem to just flow on forever, freely–that’s supremely calming. This, all Zen gardens have in common. But–and here, we return to the practical side of things–every kit has its own features: from the kind of sand and rocks used to what little statues are included. Only once you know what’s out there (and know yourself) can you find the garden that speaks most directly to you.
How to Choose a Desktop Zen Garden – Buying Guide
And now we begin our quest for the best desktop Zen garden. Let’s contemplate together the components, size, and features each of these kits has to offer.
Will You Draw Only Waves or Express Yourself in Many Patterns? Rakes
First off, all rakes need to be a practical size. There’s no “magic measurement” though–they just need to be a good deal smaller than your garden. Too large, and you can’t maneuver them into ripples and swirls.
Most rakes are make up of two interlocking cylinders (the handle and the head), with prongs coming out of the head. You use the prongs to draw out waves, and the cylindrical end to rub them out. If you want a really smooth surface to work with, see if the set includes a giant T-shaped rake. Or, if you want to design your own patterns–drawing out swirls or the petals of a flower–look for a pointed pen.
If You Don’t Want It Flying out of the Box, Look for Bigger Grains: Sand
We know, you’re tempted to go for fine grains that feel like silk under your fingers. But, remember, these gardens are desktop. Indoors. If the sand’s too light, it’ll fly out of the box at the slightest breeze. Bigger grains are heavier and easier to shape. (It’s also a bonus if the set comes with extra sand, because you do lose some over time.)
Magnetic sand’s also making an appearance. It’s a break from tradition, but building gardens in three dimensions is quite absorbing.
Where Are You Going to Put the Thing? Shape and Size
If your desk looks like a tornado’s been through, then you’ll have to settle for a matchbox garden–smaller than 5″ x 5″, maybe. If you’ve got the room though, bigger is better. There’s more space to rake and draw. We’ve found that gardens 7″ x 7″ and above are the most satisfying.
The same goes for shape. Narrow gardens are easy to squeeze along the edge of a desk and seem to take up less room. Square ones are more prominent, but allow you more freedom when designing. Circular ones are also lovely to draw on, and the lack of sharp edges somehow makes everything even more calming. But since you can’t push them up against walls, they take up the most space.
A Little Buddha Statue? Incense? Beach Umbrella? Themes and Extra Features
Traditional Zen gardens use rocks to represent islands and mountains. If you want to be faithful to this practice, look for sets with stones to scatter throughout the sand. If the pebbles are smooth and you’re a fiddler, it’s also calming to run your fingers over them.
Some gardens come with holders for incense or tealight candles, if you want to attain inner peace through your nose. You can find your favorite scents and just inhale as you quietly tend to your garden.
You can also get extra figures–ceramic animals, for example, or Buddha statues. The animals often symbolize different meanings: cranes for luck and longevity, oxen for strength. The image of a meditating Buddha inspires tranquility and contemplation.
And for beach-dwellers: there’s now tabletop Zen gardens with little umbrellas and pails and shovels. It’s not the most Buddhist, per se, but if it calms you down, who’s to judge?
Top 10 Best Desktop Zen Gardens to Buy Online
So, now you know the subtle things that make one desktop Zen garden different from another, it’s time for you to get choosing. Here are ten little gardens that we found both calming and adorable.
10. SPACECARE Magnetic Zen Sand Garden Box Set
Magnetic Sand: Build Your Garden in 3-Dimensions
Let’s break from tradition a bit. With magnetic sand, you can build in three dimensions, and there’s something immensely freeing about that. With the kit, you get four magnets, as well as two shovels and a rake. The tools, though, are honestly a bit too big for the box, and they’re awkward to move around. But use them anyway, because the iron filings will stain your fingers.
Another thing: there’s not quite enough sand for the box, which measures around 10.5″ x 8.5″. If you mindlessly run your rake through the garden, you’ll scrape bottom (which might end up grating on your nerves). What appealed to us most here, we guess, was the novelty.
9. Toysmith Mini Zen Garden
The Serenity of Buddhism, the Size of a Cellphone
This garden takes “mini” to the next level. It’s 4″ x 3″ and literally fits in your palm–so if you’ve got a tiny, cluttered desk, then this is the one to go for. (It’ll bring you some calm in the middle of all that chaos, too.) It’s small, but as long as you take everything out of it, you can rake through the sand and feel lighter.
Or, you can rearrange the stones–they’re smooth and wonderful to fiddle with–and pagodas. Stand the ceramic crane (a symbol of longevity and good luck) in the corner, and let it watch over everything. For such a tiny little thing, this gardens packs a lot of serenity.
8. Gifts & Decor Tabletop Zen Garden Kit
Soft Candlelight, Smooth Pebbles, White Sand: Three Forms of Relaxation
We love the soft white candle-holder, and the long, interrupted rectangle of sand you can pull the rake through again and again. We also love the pebbles; it’s calming to run your fingers over them. It doesn’t come with a candle, so add your favorite scented tealight and indulge in the aromatherapy, or find an artificial one and watch the lights flickering at night.
The materials, though, are not expensive. (It’s ten bucks; what can you expect?) The base chips easily, and the candle-holder is chalky. One of the large rocks is wax, and the rake is plastic–which does detract from this whole Zen-garden-as-gateway-to-nature thing.
7. Paintspiration Handmade Natural Mini Zen Garden Kit
Quietly Stack the Pebbles and Draw in the Sand
The pebbles were what got us. They’re flat and smooth, which is what makes them perfect for stacking. (And stacking is so soothing–think back to building Lego towers as a kid.) The sand’s not ultra-fine, so it won’t go flying everywhere, and some larger granules are mixed in, adding to the effortless and naturalness of the piece.
The tray, however, is plastic. But it is textured, so it doesn’t look quite as man-made. The entire thing’s about 8″ x 7″; it’ll be tough to squeeze on a cluttered desk, but at least there’s plenty of room to run the rake over. It’s lovely during long phone calls, because it’s so easy to just mindlessly draw waves or checkers in the sand, or make a rock tower.
6. fengshuisale Feng Shui Zen Garden
A Small Shrine to Provide Peace of Mind
The centerpiece is the incense burner, which will waft peace through your room. (It is small, though, so you’ll need to buy short sticks.) The lotuses, which symbolize divine birth, also hold tealight candles. The light looks lovely flickering off the bronze of the figures. The pieces are all solid too, and the base is quite large (14″ x 5″).
The only thing is, once you put all the pieces in, you don’t have much room to rake. (A rake is included, though.) And since it’s such a narrow piece, there’s not much rearranging to do either. It’s a visual piece, really–fiddlers will have to turn elsewhere.
5. Wonderful Zen Deluxe Wooden Zen Sand Garden
Draw Anything You Wish in the Sand
Draw to your heart’s content. You get six rakes with this set–all of them made from smooth bamboo. They’re small enough and easy to push around the garden. Create waves and ripples with the prongs, swirls with the pen, and erase everything with the T. And the entire time, you’ve got a Buddha watching over you in a state of serenity.
The base itself is wooden, about 7″ x 8.5,”so you’ve got a large space to play with. Group the rocks in different places, move the pot around, and lose yourself for hours.
4. Be Good Company Executive Sandbox – A Day at the Beach
A Cute, Lighthearted Beach Getaway
If you’re from the golden coast of California or the beaches of Florida, this may be what brings you peace. Zen gardens are austere, but this sandbox is light, fun, and wonderful at relieving stress. You can mindlessly rake at the sand, or shovel bits into the little pail (apparently, an addicting pastime.) The sand, by the way, is soft, lovely to touch, and the seashells realistic. The hardwood’s a good quality, so no sand comes leaking out.
It’s about 8″ x 9″. More than a traditional garden, the kit feels like a “toy”–the bucket and the tools are all plastic and brightly painted. You might find it cute; you might find it kitsch; it’s a matter of personal preference, really.
3. We Pay Your Sales Tax Tabletop Zen Garden Home Decor Gift
Enjoy the Aroma of Incense with a Miniature Buddha
It’s about the size of a volume of Harry Potter, and sits well on a bookshelf or desk. It comes with an incense holder, so you can waft serenity throughout the room. A Buddha sits with his eyes closed, prompting meditation. There’s a divider in the middle. You can fill the entire thing with sand, or half with sand and half with pebbles, mimicking the circle of yin and yang.
There’s actually not quite enough sand, though–but that may be an excuse to go the beach and pick some off the shore. Actually, because the sand it comes with has the color and consistency of salt (a bit off-putting, we know), some reviewers just supplemented it with Morton’s.
2. ICNBUYS Zen Garden with Boat Bridge Japanese Censers Set
Personalize the Garden with Many, Many Figures and Designs
This set doesn’t quite capture the Buddhist concept of “mu”–nothingness. There’s just so much: two bridges, an aged trunk, a rock, a censer, and (fake) foliage. But it’s so quieting to rearrange the pieces over and over and revel in the variation. There’s three rakes too: a pronged, a pen, and a giant T. You can draw whatever designs in the sand you want, erase, and draw again.
The sand’s a pure white–soft, a nice texture, but not fine enough to get everywhere. And if this set doesn’t speak to you, ICNBUYS also has other variations–with round or rectangular bases; brown, black, or white sand; cranes, lotuses, or buffalo. It doesn’t get much more personal than this.
1. Toysmith Deluxe Zen Garden
Sand for Contemplation, Cranes for Longevity, a Book of Quotes for Inspiration
Let’s start with everything not-Zen about this garden. The sand’s a little powdery, so it kind of sticks to the tools, and when you rake too enthusiastically, flies out of the box in poofs. It’s a bit hard to draw lasting patterns. And the bristles in the straw tool come out.
So what is Zen? It’s so fun to play with. The wood’s a pretty cherry and draws you in. Everyone–co-workers, students, and patients–fiddles around with it, rearranging the pebbles, drawing with the rakes, lining up the tools. And they all visibly relax. There’s also two graceful little cranes and a book of inspirational quotes. When everything comes to a fever pitch, it’ll remind you to breathe.
Serenity, religion, and rest can feel very distant from the roar of everyday life. These Zen gardens aren’t much, they’ll help you take a breather. Whether it be the contemplative face of the Buddha, the aroma of incense, or the look of a sandy beach, we hope you found what slows down your pulse and makes you happy. Go forth, grasshopper.
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