Miniature gardens have become very popular at florists and nurseries. Similar to terrariums in that there are a variety of plants combine to create a small garden, the difference is that miniature gardens include scaled-down chairs, benches bird baths and the like and are intended to fool the eye. Fully completed garden are being sold (often for hundreds of dollars) or, you can purchase “kits” or collect small furniture and accessories so you can make them yourself. Fairy gardens are similar to miniature gardens, but the fantasy element is usually emphasized using bright colors, glitter and fairy figurines. Here are some gardens I made and a quick guide on how you can make your own. A fairy garden is intended to look like a fantasy garden, a miniature garden is intended to look like, well, a miniature garden.
Start by choosing a container. Use your imagination- wooden crates, galvanized buckets or bird baths to name a few things. Or purchase containers at your local gardening center. Here’s where you want to set aside the term miniature, since the larger your container the more creative you can be in designing your garden. Although your plants and decorations may be small, they start to take up room quickly and you don’t want your garden to look too cluttered (that will probably happen on its own, as the plants grow.). Remember, your container is going to be part of your overall design so be creative and think about how it’s going to look overall.
Then choose your plants. In order to achieve a garden-like-look, your plant choices need to be diverse, but their culture requirements must be similar, or your garden won’t last long. Be wary of gardens created by florists and even some nurseries since they often just arrange plants by how they think they look and ignore their growing requirements. You would think they would know better, but they are really just trying to catch your eye and sell a product. (An extreme example, but think planting a fern next to a cactus.) I almost always use succulents since they offer such a broad range of looks and colors, their growing requirements are similar, they are mostly slow growers and they are hardy and survive harsh conditions such as being dried out.
Next, hunt for accessories like chairs, benches, trellises, pots, birdbaths, signs, gnomes, the list is endless. If you can’t find what you are looking for locally, a search of “miniature garden” on Amazon.com will yield hundreds of results. Keep scale in mind. Size of these accessories varies greatly, and if you aren’t careful to make sure you are working in the same scale you can blow the whole illusion. Not that you are going to actually trick anyone, but designing to the proper scale does create an interesting illusion that will make your garden more appealing. Keep scale in mind when choosing stone, gravel or sand as well. I was using dyed moss as a sort of “grass-like” material, but quickly found out that the sun burns out they green dye and I ended up with an unattractive brown covering. This can be sprayed green, but you will need to choose your green wisely or you will lose your realism.
Design your small garden as you would your larger ones. Put larger plants, or plants that look like trees toward the back, medium in the middle and smaller in the front. This helps with their growth and exposure to light as well. Try to use lots of color and texture to make your design more visually appealing. Arrange furniture in conversation nooks. I like to use a tiny terracotta pot knocked on it’s side to make it look like there’s work to be done, and I use clear marbles as gazing globes. Some people even build their own furniture, which I would think would make the project much more complicated, but if you are a woodworker this might interest you. Even a non-woodworker may be able to put together an interesting looking trellis.
Because I am planting succulents, I use a cactus potting medium and provide plenty of drainage. When planting a large container I fill the bottom with perlite to make it lighter and ensure that I will be able to pick it up and move it around (this also allows for good drainage.) Since succulents are mostly easy to propagate, sometimes I just stick cuttings right into the ground. You can design your garden anyway you like but I prefer some sort of a tall trellis in the background and a clearing with sand or gravel on the foreground. When I put in fencing I make sure there is room to plant on both sides and curl it around, making it look more natural.
Once planted and established, your miniature garden will need some maintenance beyond the occasional watering. Individual plants may grow out of bounds or need to be trimmed. If a plant dies, it will need to be pulled out, but that’s pretty much it.
Finally, even if you follow all the rules, it is likely that your garden will only last between 6 months and a year. Some plants will grow too big, others will die or become crowded out. It’s better to go into it thinking that it has a shelf life and when it starts looking shabby, plan on ripping it apart and starting again.
One more word of advice that I wish someone had mentioned to me. There are many succulents with colorful leaves. Most of these retain their color all year long, but some of them, the most flamboyantly colored, are only colorful in the spring and or fall and spend the bulk of the year a boring green. It pays to do your research when selecting them if their color is important to your design.
I designed my first miniature garden for a friend who loved her full sized garden, but thought an illness was going to keep her from her garden. I thought caring for a miniature garden would be something she could manage. I got the bug and ended up designing over a dozen miniature gardens in one season.
Close up of a miniature garden emphasizing texture and form. Sedums are combined with Echeveria, Klanchoe, Agave and Crassula A tiny gnome hides amongst the greenery.
These 10” terracotta dish containers are inexpensive and commonly found at nurseries. They make the perfect miniature garden container. A tall Echeveria looks tree-like in the background and a mini Adirondack chair sits on colored gravel.
Pulling back from the first close up, this garden was planted in a wooden pear box.
Wrought iron-like chairs underneath a trellis. The succulent “string of beans,” a close relative or “string of pearls” is trained to climb up the trellis instead of hang down from the pot as it normally does.
This slightly overgrown minature garden has a Luetens bench, bird bath and gazing globe. A rusty iron fence is almost completely obscured by the plants. Sedums with smaller leaves and habits add to the illusion. There are over 20 different varieties of succulents in this garden.
This garden was planted in a terracotta pedastal dish. Not much grows in this dish because it is very shallow and terra cotta, but it’s perfect for succulents. String of pearls, string of beans and burro’s tail cascade over the edge. The accessories in this garden are a smaller scale than the ones in the other gardens and include a birdhouse, welcome sign and shovel.
My first attempt at a non-succulent shade miniature garden. The container is a cement mixing trough (similar to the top of an old wheelbarrow without the wheels and handle) propped up on bricks to put it at a good viewing angle. The second level is a piece of a large broken terra cotta pot rim. A few different kinds of live moss were used for the “grass,” and some small growing Rex and regular Begonias that thrive in deep shade were used as well. Tradescantia spathecea adds color and leaf texture and a mini Caladium adds interest. A gold variegated ivy climbs the trellis in the back. Props such as a Luetens bench, gazing globe, bird bath, garden gnome, mushrooms, gateposts and path lanterns create the effect of a miniature paradise.
Another mini garden in a 10″ terra cotta dish. Color and texture combine to create and interesting look. Succulents are so easy to start from cutting and these mini gardens make great gifts.