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How to turn a nasty barn ruin into a beautiful karesansui (dry rock) Zen garden.

When our century old barn became too too dangerous to use anymore we had a salvage company remove as much of the old board and beams as possible.


It's nice to think our old board will have a new life as an upscale floor someplace, but we were left with a terrible mess of crumbling granite foundation walls and splintered waste board.

This is how we changed an eyesore into a place every visitor wants to see. It required lots of our labour but not much cost or new material as we reused almost everything to make our Zen garden literally rise from the ashes.

Please enjoy this instructable and don't forget to rate it and comment on how I can make it (or the garden) better. I am happy to answer any questions you might have.
 
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Step 1: Clean Up

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Pretty self explanatory. The wood salvage company left a substantial pile of rubble that had to be buried or burned.

All the metal we found in the pile was sent to a scrap dealer. The road repair crew owed us a favour for helping them out so they used a huge loader to rough level the interior after the clean out and then we got started.

The clean up was the hardest step. It took a long time and an intense amount of labour. It didn't cost much but it was hard work.


Don't be too quick to bury and tear down everything, you may find a few treasures like the large granite rocks under the floor and the mature grape vine growing over an old door frame. Reuse it to save money and recycle as much as possible...

Step 2: Tackle the Walls

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Working one section at a time, we pushed over the granite foundation walls to make them safe and hand piled the rocks to show off the best colours and give the garden it's shape. (Yup, that's me on the backhoe... it helps to have a strong friend around the farm)

Make sure your final wall heights are pleasing before you start adding plants, or you will have to be like me and take down the high bits by hand later. We originally thought leaving one high wall section would be a nice contrast but it was too distracting from the rest of the garden, so, out with the sledge hammer and up on the wall to get it done...

All of the rocks taken down by hand were used on the other garden walls.

Step 3: The Interior

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Draw some paper plans of how you want the garden to look when finished and use them as your guide. A garden hose helps to show you how to shape and space your garden elements. You can't stick to the plans too rigidly on a project like this because you never know what you might find in the ground or exactly how a wall might fall etc. Nature tells you how the garden will ultimately look, you can't force it overly much.

Keeping in mind that different heights make an interesting landscape, we used some large rocks we had left over from a retaining wall project and they made excellent stair steps and benches inside the garden.

Your tractor is your friend on this type of job, but make sure you work safely and never put anything you can't afford to lose under a suspended one ton rock, including toes, tools and old pet dogs that don't move too quickly anymore!


Now get a few loads of drainage stone and stone screenings to use as walkways and decoration around your rocks. Put lots of landscape fabric under the walkways and screenings to prevent weeds from coming through.

Build a section at a time and work in some proportionately sized flower beds as you go. Not too many or you will lose the Zen-garden look. There are lots of rules around how to correctly build Japanese karesansui gardens if you are a purest, we followed some of them but mainly we just wanted something to look clean and well proportioned.

The flower beds were excavated to about 3' deep and refilled with top soil and compost we made ourselves. Almost all the plants we used came from our other gardens, we did buy some of the trees from a local nursery and traded some vines with our neighbours.

Step 4: Create Something From Nothing

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Every Zen Garden needs some eye catchers. You make these from interesting shaped stones and plants and arrange them to suit your taste.

We were lucky to have found three very heavy granite rocks under the floor of the old barn and we wrestled them into a grouping that we surrounded with screenings raked into a circular pattern to simulate waves on the lake. (I made the rake out of a few salvaged boards nailed together with a 1" wide sawtooth pattern cut out)

Step 5: Nod to History

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When we started this project, most of the neigbours thought we were nuts and suggested we just push everything into a hole and grass it over.

We wanted to recognize the work the last generation put into this structure and try to make it beautiful for another generation, so we decided to recycle the granite and also the iron flywheel from a wind powered straw chopping machine that came with the barn.

We cut the 100 lb. flywheel off the ugly old chopper and welded a couple legs to it. We planted the wheel in a flower bed and it makes a perfect yin/yang and a great conversation piece.

Our lazy black cat loves this garden and has made it his own personal ninja chipmunk training school. (The chipmunks get a lot of hard lessons from the master)

Notice the mature grape vine over the old door frame in front of the silo. We carefully saved that piece of the barn wall and the vine through all the demolition and reconstruction. It pays us back every fall with the greatest bright reds and gold colours and makes a perfect visual high point all year long.

Step 6: ~ The Reward ~

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A finished Zen-garden for visitors to enjoy for another generation thanks to recycling the materials left for us by the last generation.


Now if only we could figure out a way to recycle those weeds!

buck22171 month ago
Recycling the weeds- get a barrel (45gallon ideally) put the weeds in, top up wth water and keave for a couple of weeks . the resulting soup liquid is full of pottasium etc . Dilute about 15 to 1 and water your plants with it. It is an awesome fertilizer then compost the weeds left as they will be inert by then
Lyngstad1 year ago

This is sucha great work!!! It´s a wonderful work "of art".

I just love it :)

esto10t2 years ago
Lovely. Really, lovely. Nice job.
Asmodeous4 years ago
Only if we all had a Backhoe.
hunnynspice5 years ago
genius and gorgeous!!
LGray5 years ago
Creative and green at the same time.  This is a good role model for others to follow.
diydept5 years ago
Wow wow wow This is excellent and great. A huge project. Where is this place?Greetings from Winnipeg!
eltigre (author)  diydept5 years ago
Hi Winnipeg, I just got back from there last Thursday. Small world. We are located in southern Ontario. Glad you liked the garden.
epizeuxis6 years ago
That looks amazing
Claude36 years ago
this was a perfect example of creativity and talent, with a georgeous final product!
swartley3ga6 years ago
beautiful! wanna come make me one? lol it looks like your hard work paid off!
eltigre (author)  swartley3ga6 years ago
Sure, I'll come make one for you, (as they say in the old country and western song... "If you've got the money, honey, I've got the time";) thx for the compliments...
Truly stunning job! And a really well-written instructable, too! Well done.
Nice. The raked area?....is small rocks or sand?...I have an area with four large rhododendrums I'd love to do something like this in. We put down weed barrier and mulch, but after a couple years the weeds and seedlings are taking over.
the raked area is made of stone screenings from a local gravel pit. When they crush rock, very small bits fall through the screens which they save and sell at a reasonable price. When you rake it, it holds its wave shape through many rains. It can be raked again whenever you want without much difficulty.
thanks. May have to try .
That is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I was in a bad mood until I saw that. Now I feel all peaceful and calm.
Laura Anne6 years ago
All I can say is, "WOW!"
Drbstotka6 years ago
You did a lovely, lovely job!
very attractive :-)
maslo6 years ago
Eltigre, I can't believe my eyes - if I am right, you have Zetor on your pictures. How the heck did it get from the small european country as The Czech Republic is to Canada??? Anyway, I am really pleased to see a piece of my country on your pictures :-)
eltigre (author)  maslo6 years ago
You are correct Maslo, A Zetor 5245 is my strong friend. We have dealers here in Canada but I bought this one third hand. Very strong tough tractor, it has paid for itself many times over. Good eyes you have there...
Your work is commendable. I sure did like the look of your barn, though. Although a photo doesn't always show the detail of an actual eyeball perusal, I sure wish I had such a barn on my little 5 acres! I think about the incredible studio I could have built using much of the existing barn structure. To each his/her own, I guess? Best of luck in life. Happy Trails. Pete in the Minnesota woods.
eltigre (author)  sweetpeapete6 years ago
Yes, we were sad to have to take it down, but the price estimates we got to rebuild it were over 300,000. Yikes...
Hi, you need not answer this as I know we are all busy, but I was just wondering where you live? (Just the state). It looks beautiful. I am, as I indicated, in east central Minnesota. My woods are mostly Red Oak, Birch, scattered Evergreens, and some Popple, Ash, etc. The trees are sorta close together, but walking around is unhindered by scrub. It's quite pretty and quiet. Happy Trails, Pete
eltigre (author)  sweetpeapete6 years ago
We live in Southern Canada. We too have mostly maple on the grounds, but also some really nice Spruce, pine, walnut and oak as well. Very nice colours in the fall, the maples sure know what they are doing.
jumbuck6 years ago
5 stars from me. I feel better about life just looking at the pics :-).
WOW... just WOW im speachless, great job
eltigre (author)  pyelitegamerro766 years ago
I'm pleased you enjoyed it like most of our visitors. It's magical to sit in there on a summer day and drink tea while listening to the song birds... pure Zen People love to play with that silly rake as well. This summer we added a herb garden to the south side and a salvaged deck that blends right in.
Now that is what I call inspiration. It's beautiful what you have done. Do you teach, you should.
omnibot6 years ago
Oooohhh .. very nice.
ChrysN6 years ago
WOW, that's really amazing!
That is just crazy beautiful!