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

Miniature Christmas Garden Craze

 

Globe terrarium
Globe terrarium
Globe terrarium sitting on a Hopkins desk top
Globe terrarium sitting on a Hopkins desk top

Maybe it is just me. Since I had an order for 40 of my miniature gardens as gifts at the local Johns Hopkins for the staff of one of the hospitals, I am going crazy with Christmas decorating in miniature. Instead of  dreaming about sugarplums, I’m dreaming of miniature gardens in an endless line that I am decorating! I love making these small creations that people can enjoy for months to come.

I love this little footed terrarium for tiny scenes
I love this little footed terrarium for tiny scenes

For my popular posts on making miniature gardens, go to Miniature Gardens-Whimisical Creations, Fairy Gardens, and Fairytale Christmas.

Mini garden with gnome
Mini garden with gnome

It merely takes a small glass terrarium container, bonsai pot, or low terra cotta container and you can make your own. For materials, I use small Christmas balls, reindeer moss, miniatures, sheet moss, and small potted plants from a local nursery. I use either woodland plants for a moist container or succulents for a drier one.

Gnome home
Gnome home

For details on making gnome homes in a cut away pot, go to Gnome Home.  You need to cut a chunk out of a terra cotta pot to create this and I give you instructions on how to cut the pot.

Woodland garden
Woodland garden
Mini succulent garden
Mini succulent garden
A succulent container that you would keep on the dry side
A succulent container that you would keep on the dry side
A woodland Christmas scene that you would water a little more
A woodland Christmas scene that you would water a little more

All of the plants will get much larger and can be kept in bounds for at least a year. Transplanting and replanting would be in order when the plants grow too large for the container and you could keep the planter going for several years or more.

Christmas miniature garden
A larger Christmas garden
I used this Christmas tree ornament for a tiny snowman
I used this Christmas tree ornament for a tiny snowman

Step By Step

Step by step for making miniature gardens
Step by step for making miniature gardens
  • Place potting soil in container with drainage: Alternatively, if you have a glass type terrarium, place gravel in bottom with some horticultural charcoal ( few tablespoons, available at garden centers)

  •  Plant a variety of plants with different textures and colors, starting with the largest ones first; I used from 3 to 5 plants for each small garden

  • If a woodland garden, I like to place moss in between the plants to hide soil; If a succulent garden, place small gravel on surface

  • Place any pathways, ornaments, reindeer moss, or gnomes at the very end; I like to use colored glass chunks for added color

  • Water thoroughly until the soil is saturated and place in a filtered sun spot for woodland scenes and full sun for succulent ones

  • For care, I stick my finger down into the soil to see if it is moist or not; For succulent gardens in the winter water every few weeks, and for woodland ones, water about once a week, depending on how warm and dry your house is

007

 

Mini gardens dropped off at  Johns Hopkins
Mini gardens dropped off at Johns Hopkins

Little Cuties Are A Rainbow Of Colors

Sugar Berry Little Cutie Heuchera series- This one is my favorite
Sugar Berry Little Cutie Heuchera series- This one is my favorite

I post a lot about miniature gardens and accessories and am always looking for different plants to set these gardens off. I found a series of miniature plants that sport stunning color combos for 2013! They are called ‘Little Cutie’ Coral Bells. The colors are phenomenal, and they are spicing up containers for the spring. I got most of these pictures from Terra Nova Nursery in Oregon.

Little Cutie
Peppermint Little Cutie Heuchera

I was plodding down the aisles of a local wholesale nursery laden precariously with flats of plants on each arm, and did an about-face when I came upon these beauties. The nursery was trialing them in small quantities before plunging into planting greater numbers, and I begged to take a few of them home. I knew exactly what to do with them. My favorite was one called ‘Sugar Berry’ which had a beautiful rose garnet coloring with venation that I am going to use in containers and miniature gardens.

Sweet Tart Little Cutie
Sweet Tart Little Cutie

According to the information that I can gather, they have:

  • An ever blooming habit
  • Long season of interest
  • Vigorous with multiple crowns to fill a pot
  • A great size for mixed containers
  • Perfect for rock, train, and fairy gardens
  • Attractive to butterflies and bees
  • Suitable as house plants!!

From Terra Nova Nurseries, they have been hybridized by Dan Heims in Oregon.

Flat of Llittle Cutie Heucheras
Flat of Llittle Cutie Heucheras

There are 6 varieties of this series with a rainbow of names – Sugar Berry, Ginger Snap, Sweet Tart, Coco, Peppermint, and Frost. The flowers are actually very pretty also, which is unusual for a Heuchera (Coral Bells), and they claim to remain small in stature and evergreen. Playing well with others and not overtaking a container is another of their notable characteristics. Good drainage is the secret of success with Coral Bells and one reason that they do well in containers. Morning sun and afternoon shade is their preferred light requirement. As with any other Heuchera, as the plant grows, the crown elongates and rises up out of the soil. To remedy this, you can lift and divide the plant every few years, and make sure you don’t bury the crown.

Coco Little Cutie Heuchera
Coco Little Cutie Heuchera
Little cuties in pots
Little cuties in pots

I am trying a few of these in my containers and miniature gardens and hope that they perform as good as the reviews say. Sometimes plant introductions are too good to be true, and I am disappointed when they don’t pan out.  I will keep you posted!

Brilliant! The Philadelphia Flower Show

IMG_7777
Foxgloves ruled at the Philadelphia Flower Show– shown here with annual Blue Salvia

Attention Plant Geeks! You still have time to visit the greatest flower show on earth!

I just came back from doing my demo of fairy gardens at the Philadelphia Flower Show and took lots of pictures and video.  If you can’t make it this year to the show, you are missing a blooming  ‘Brilliant’ show! English gardens were front and center with lots of English cottage style borders full of overflowing flowers.

Beautiful Foxgloves!
Beautiful Foxgloves!

The flower that I noticed over and over were Foxgloves, a truly English flower.  Peace Tree Nursery, who forces most of the plant material for the flower show must have had acres of Foxgloves to deliver for the show.  They were beautiful!

Beautiful woodland setting at one of the landscaped gardens
Beautiful woodland setting at one of the landscaped gardens

Here are some quick facts about the show:

  •  The Philadelphia Flower show is the largest of its kind in the nation and draws over 250,000 people from all over the world.  It is larger even than the renowned Chelsea Flower in England.
  • Held at the Convention Center, the gardens cover more than 10 acres of floral fantasy.
  • In addition to the major garden displays, the Flower Show hosts world-renowned competitions in horticulture and artistic arranging, hundreds of gardening lectures and demonstrations, special events, a mammoth indoor Marketplace, and a city-wide Flower Show Week celebration throughout downtown Philadelphia.
  • The Flower Show has been held since 1829, which makes it the oldest one in the nation.

Brilliant! is this years theme and should delight all Anglophiles which I happen to be from traveling to Britain many times over the years. Only the English really understand gardening and make it a national “sport”.  They also have the perfect climate to create those fabulous gardens that you see. American gardeners are usually envious about the English “cottage” gardens and try to replicate them at home, but rarely succeed. We have a harsher, more unforgiving climate that takes tougher plants to survive. There is nothing wrong with that, it is just a different spin on gardening, and no less beautiful.

Here are the things that were notable about this show:

Scavenger Hunt 

I am a kid at heart, so the “Quest for the Queen” scavenger hunt really tickled my fancy. There were miniature sized “Queen” figures hidden around the exhibits and kids were challenged to find them.  Make gardening fun for kids.  I loved it! These are gardening newbies in the making!

IMG_7806

Fascinators

English: Several examples of fascinators photo...
English: Several examples of fascinators photo from flickr by motodraconis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, Maybe you have been living in a cave for the past year and haven’t heard about the latest craze of Fascinators! These were popularized at the last royal wedding when some over-the-top head-gear was displayed. New this year at the Philly Show, was the ‘Make and Take’ area for people to fork over $10 and make their very own interpretation of headgear that makes anyone stand out in a crowd. I saw dozens of them so this must have been a very popular feature.

Fascinator on Etsy
Fascinator on Etsy (Photo credit: shadowfairyqueen)

Crown Jewels

What if your assignment was to interpret the Crown Jewels in flowers?  Where would you start?  Color obviously, shape also, but glamour and impact are paramount! I think these designers accomplished that in spades!

Crown Jewels - Sapphire Blue, This was my favorite!
Crown Jewels – Sapphire Blue, This was my favorite!
The golden sceptre
The golden sceptre
The throne done in red roses
The throne done in red roses
The entrance to the crown jewels
The entrance to the crown jewels

Gardener‘s Studio

Ok, I agree that I am partial to this venue because I was one of the presenters! But, take a load off your sore feet after walking around for hours and listen to the different programs that the studio dishes up! David Culp on Hellebores, a container garden challenge,  and creating a Bird Friendly garden, and myself doing a demo on Fairy Gardens were some of the different offerings on tap.

Gretchen, my assistant, and I working hard at The Gardeners Studio
Gretchen, my assistant, and I working hard at The Gardeners Studio
Gretchen showing around the miniature globe garden to the audience
Gretchen showing around the miniature globe garden to the audience

The Poop Exhibit

IMG_7796

I did warn you that I am a kid at heart and I gravitated to this “Poop Exhibit” by the Philadelphia Water Department just like any kid would – the ultimate low cost natural fertilizer!

 A fake pile of poop complete with flies!
A fake pile of poop complete with flies!

Oddities

No show is complete without plant oddities and I spotted a couple. Check out these two.

Grafted Cactus
Grafted Cactus
025
Bowiea volublis or otherwise known as ‘Pregnant Onion’

Miniature Gardens

There is always a crowd gathered around the miniature gardens and I took lots of pictures of these.  They seem to get better every year. Enjoy!

Related Articles

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