Growing a tiny garden on your desk at work or on your windowsill is the perfect project to start spring. Creating a miniature scene combining small plants, miniature furniture, tools, moss, and colorful pebbles combines crafting with gardening. Shopping at a big box store or local nursery for tiny terrarium plants instead of taking on a big outdoor project that costs a lot of money is my idea of a quick spring project to lift your spirits.
A garden designer by trade, I normally design life-size, but also love to design gardens in miniature- especially in the winter when I am housebound. There is something unique about creating a complete space in small scale that is so satisfying. Garden features that I have only dreamed about having – like a bridge over a dry stream bed, mossy nooks and crannies, and arbors – are so easy to create in miniature and a fraction of the cost.
Nurseries and plant centers are catering to this gardening trend and it isn’t hard to find small scale plants and miniatures, even in the dead of winter.
I think the hardest part of creating mini gardens is finding the appropriate container. A wide shallow wide container is desirable but hard to find. That is why I make a lot of my own with hypertufa or Shapecrete. See my chapter on making shallow heart shaped containers for succulents. If that is too much trouble, then use shallow ceramic or wooden containers with drainage holes. But occasionally I discover a perfect pottery container in my travels and grab it. Bonsai pots are excellent if you can find them.
- After choosing the perfect container, fill it up about 2/3 of the way with some good loose potting medium
- Arrange your plants, usually 3 to 5 of them in an interesting design. Use creeping ones, as well as taller ones like small grasses and different colors to give variety. Make sure you have room for a meandering pathway and small areas to place your accessories.
- Use naturally miniature plants that are in scale with a tiny garden. I use ajugas, alternanthera, small grasses, creeping thymes, sedums, sempervivums, mosses, silver falls, trailing rosemary, wire vine, mini liriope, and miniature alpines, like armeria. The plants will eventually outgrow your garden, so you need to refresh and edit the garden periodically. If my thyme or ajuga gets out of hand, I dig it up, separate and use the extras to make a new garden.After planting your selections, I take moistened sheet moss and press it in between the plants to cover the soil. This covering gives you a base to place your stepping stones and other accessories. It also prevents the soil from coming loose and overflowing the container when you water. After creating a pathway, I like to scatter coarse aquarium gravel around the stones to give them definition. As a last flourish, scatter small bits of beach glass or ‘mermaid tears’ to make the path stand out.
- Here is the fun part! I am always on the lookout on my travels for small pieces to use in my gardens and you can find them in the most unexpected places. Christmas decorations are a surprising source and I find lots of miniature gardening tools and watering cans as ornaments.
- Don’t worry that the piece will not be the exact scale for your garden – no one is measuring! Just make sure that you don’t clutter the garden up too much, so use only three or four minis. I love using miniature wheel barrows with a tiny terra cotta pot or a bird house on a stake. Small resin animals, twig arbors, fences, miniature benches or chairs add to the charm. These make a perfect gift for someone who is housebound and cannot garden outdoors.
Use a mister to water your garden every 4 to 5 days, and more if the container is in the sun. Use small trimmers to keep everything pruned to scale. As the plants grow, you will need to transplant them to another container and replace with a new miniature plant. The gravel or crushed shells will need to be refreshed periodically. I have been successful with keeping my gardens both indoors and outdoors. Usually, I place my gardens in partial sun outdoors during the summer and bring them indoors for the winter, keeping it on a windowsill with bright light