Miniature Gardening in the Winter

Mini garden

Mini Gardens 

I am a garden designer by trade and normally design gardens in full 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 and fun!  I can have garden features that I have only dreamed about – like a bridge over a dry stream bed, mossy nooks and crannies, arbors, and birdhouses just like I was creating a larger space.

A fairy garden in the landscape
A fairy garden in the landscape

I can enjoy a tiny gazing ball- but at a fraction of the cost of a full size version. It seems like more nurseries are catering to this gardening trend and it isn’t hard to find small scale plants and miniatures, even in the dead of winter.

Fairy garden accessories
Fairy garden accessories

 

Containers

I think the hardest part of creating mini gardens is finding the appropriate container.  A shallow wide open container is desirable but hard to find.  That is why I make a lot of my own with hypertufa. Use my recipe to make your own container at http://http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/hypertufa-making-mud-pies/.

Try making your hypertufa in a basket mold. After the mixture sets, cut off the basket and peel it off the hypertufa. The basket weave leaves great indentations in the cement.

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.

Bonsai containers make perfect miniature garden containers
Bonsai containers make perfect miniature garden containers

Planting

A shallow boat shaped container found at a fabric store!

Planting DIY

After choosing the perfect container, fill it up about 2/3 of the way with some good loose potting soil.  Notice that I recommend good potting soil.  An organic one with lots of peat is the best mix even though you might pay a few more bucks a bag. 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.

Fill shallow container with soil
Arrange your small plants with different textures and colors in the bowl.

Suggested Plants

Use naturally miniature plants that are in scale with a tiny garden.  I use ajugas, alternethera, 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.

Use a variety of plants, including some blooming ones
Use a variety of plants, including some blooming ones

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.

Choose some round polished stones for a pathway
Create a pathway with stones

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.

Scattered coarse gravel
Crushed colored beach glass

Accessories

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 rich source. I find lots of miniature gardening tools and watering cans at Christmas as ornaments.

Gnome home, go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/happy-gnoming-home-for-a-gnome/
Gnome home, go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/happy-gnoming-home-for-a-gnome/

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 two or three 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.

Mini with accessories

Care

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 pot them out 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.

Planted garden with accessories
Planted garden
Planted garden

Container Fever in the Winter

The graceful lines of the evergreen Carex 'Evergold' looks good all the time
The graceful lines of the evergreen Carex ‘Evergold’ looks good all the time

Start with Perennials

A few daffs are blooming, I started feeding sugar syrup to the bees, and it is mud season here in Maryland, but I am already getting the itch which I can only satisfy by making up some early containers.  Most people just plant their containers in mid-May, and try to make them last all summer into Fall. But I am more successful if I start with a base of perennials and then add the seasonal plants when it warms up. There are very few plants that will look good all year-long or even for 6 months. I do rely on a few that have staying power and use them as a base to build on with other more seasonal plants. One of them is ‘Evergold’ Carex. This shade loving evergreen grass looks good 365 days of the year so I really like using this in containers for shade. This plant has been in my containers for 4 years and is thriving. For an alternative, the Hakenochloas or Japanese Forest Grass is another one that would work.

Hakenochloa 'All Gold'
Hakenochloa ‘All Gold’

Three more plants that look good planted in a container all year-long is Heuchera, Lamium, and Bergenia. Heuchera or Coral Bells can look a little bedraggled but as soon as it warms up, it is stellar. I had both of these containers outside my bedroom all winter long and could enjoy them without doing a thing.

Bergenia with its large leaves has burgundy highlights in the Winter. Lamium is hanging down the side and 'Southern Comfort' Heuchera is on the right.
Bergenia with its large leaves has burgundy highlights in the Winter. Lamium is hanging down the side and ‘Southern Comfort’ Heuchera is on the right.

If the plants get too large, I can always chop out some pieces and replant in the garden. Also, in the fall, I do cut them back a little to get new growth. Now I just have to get some pansies to add to these for a pop of color and I am done until mid- May when I rip out the pansies and put a summer bloomer in its place.

Heuchera americana 'Green Spice'
Heuchera americana ‘Green Spice’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other perennials that you can use are ferns, large grasses, evergreen sedums, hellebores, conifers, and ivies.

Fern
Fern (Photo credit: hartjeff12) Ferns are excellent in containers

I know everyone is beginning to think about planting containers and here is a great link to get you started.

http://www.housesittingjobs.com/blog/35-of-the-best-blogs-for-novice-container-gardeners/

Happy Planting! I would love to see some pictures of containers that you have planted that you think stand out from the crowd.

A seasonal fall container
A seasonal fall container

Miniature Gardens – Whimsical Creations

Mini garden

Trough Gardens 

I am a garden designer by trade and normally design gardens in full size, but also love to design gardens in miniature! There is something unique about creating a complete space in small scale that is so satisfying and fun!  I can have garden features that I have only dreamed about – like a bridge over a dry stream bed, mossy nooks and crannies, arbors, and birdhouses just like I was creating a larger space. Even a tiny gazing ball. But at a fraction of the cost! It seems like more nurseries are catering to this gardening  trend and it isn’t hard to find small scale plants and tchotchkes to add to the theme.

Containers

I think the hardest part of creating mini gardens is finding the appropriate container.  A shallow wide open container is desirable but hard to find.  That is why I make a lot of my own with hypertufa. Use my recipe to make your own container at http://http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/hypertufa-making-mud-pies/.

Try making your hypertufa in a basket mold. After the mixture sets, cut off the basket and peel it off the hypertufa. The basket weave leaves great indentations in the cement.

If that is too much trouble, then use shallow tin containers or you can hammer one together out of strips of wood.  But occasionally I discover a perfect pottery container in my travels and grab it. Bonsai pots are excellent if you can find them.

Planting

A shallow boat shaped container found at a fabric store!

Planting

After choosing the perfect container, fill it up about 2/3 of the way with some good loose potting soil.  Notice that I recommend good potting soil.  An organic one with lots of peat is the best mix even though you might pay a few more bucks a bag.   Do not use garden soil which is way too heavy and which I bought by mistake.  Arrange your plants, usually 3 to 5 of them in a pleasing design. Use creeping ones, as well as taller ones like small grasses to give variety. Make sure you have room for a meandering pathway and small areas to place your accessories.

Fill shallow container with soil
Arrange your small plants with different textures and colors in the bowl.

Suggested Plants

Use naturally miniature plants that are in scale with a tiny garden.  I use ajugas, alternethera, 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.

Choose some round polished stones for a pathway
Create a pathway with stones

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.

Scattered coarse gravel
Crushed colored beach glass

Accessories

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. I find lots of miniature gardening tools and watering cans at Christmas 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 two or three 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 go out to work or enjoy a garden.

Mini with accessories
Fake rock container
Planted rock container

Care

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 pot them out 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.

Planted garden with accessories
Planted garden
Planted garden