Floating floral displays called mandalas make a fun and rewarding summer project for both adults and kids. Just fill a container with water; cut flower heads, petals and leaves; then arrange in a pattern on the water. See ideas from an Ohio garden pro for floating mandalas and other Earth art, plus get step-by-step instructions to create your own.

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Water Mandala
Credit: Teresa Woodard

On his days off from Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, garden pro Bill Dawson enjoys playing with leaves, flower petals and seeds to create floating mandalas and other Earth art forms in his backyard near Columbus, Ohio.

"It's art in the garden and a cool way to express yourself or show off plants and flowers in a different way," says Dawson.

You may also find Dawson or other Community Outreach and Education team members practicing this art form with children of all ages in The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children's Garden at the Franklin Park conservatory.

Water mandala
Credit: Bill Dawson

Often, he'll arrange leaves and petals as a mandala – a Sanskrit word for "circle" and an ancient sacred symbol.

Water mandala
Credit: Bill Dawson

"It's a lot more meditative to me than religious," says Dawson. "I'll start creating and finding things that make me feel good, whether it's calming, joy, balance or healing."

Water mandala
Credit: Bill Dawson

He says traditionalists typically create the mandala patterns by starting in the middle and adding circles moving outward.

mandala
Credit: Bill Dawson

Dawson also likes to experiment with other forms, like stars, peace signs and smiling faces. Sometimes he designs them on water but also on the ground, a mossy log, a sandy beach or a pebbled riverbank.

He starts with a flower, leaf or piece of bark that calls out "show me off," then builds a design around that focal item.

Floating mandala
Credit: Bill Dawson

He's even sailed his creations down a nearby creek. "Every one of these are ephemeral, but that's okay," says Dawson who often photographs them with his phone and shares them on Instagram earth_art_bill.

Tips for designing your own mandala

how to create a water mandala
Credit: Teresa Woodard
  1. Fill a plant pot or large bowl with water, stopping just before the rim.
How to make a floating mandala
Credit: Teresa Woodard

2. Collect flowers and leaves in different sizes and colors. For this spring design, we used daffodils, spurge, grape hyacinth, red azaleas and lady's mantle leaves. For summer, try sunflowers, zinnias, daisies and coneflowers. For fall, play with red maple leaves and anemone blooms.

how to make a water mandala
Credit: Teresa Woodard

3. Begin creating your design. Try starting with a large flower or cluster of flowers in the middle, then adding concentric circles around the main flower. Be patient; as you add more flowers the circular patterns will hold better in place.

How to create a water mandala
Credit: Teresa Woodard

4. Keep adding materials until the water's surface is covered.

Water Mandala
Credit: Teresa Woodard

5. In the ancient style, enjoy the process, pausing along the way to be mindful of flowers' details, texture and scents. Display the final design on a porch, patio or tabletop where you can continue to appreciate its beauty for at least a day or two. Some mandalas can last up to a week.