Friday, November 1, 2013

Creating miniature gardens

The miniature garden plants are combined with in-scale accessories to create living mini garden scenes that can grow and weave together for years in a container or in-ground with minimal care. When planted correctly, the plants and trees stay in scale with each other to create a sustainable garden in miniature.

Helpful advice on creating and caring for a miniature garden found at

is summarized below.  This website also offers a nice selection of plants and accessories especially selected and recommended for miniature gardens, which can also be found on etsy at 

Janit Calvo's book, Gardening in Miniature, has been recently released:

After deciding on the location for a miniature garden, assess light, (full sun? shade? indirect light?) temperature (indoor or outdoor?) and watering requirements (do the plants like moist soil or dry soil?), to determine which plants would thrive in those conditions. “Dwarf” means a plant grows 1” to 6” per year. “Miniature” means a plant will grow less than 1” per year.  Miniature plants are paired with small-leafed, slow-growing ground covers and are matched with the trees for similar light, water and placement requirements.

If the pot does not have a drainage hole, use at least an inch of gravel on the bottom. Cut a round piece of landscape cloth to fit over the gravel then pour in potting soil. If it’s a low dish, build it like a terrarium and put a layer of charcoal between the gravel and soil to eliminate smells from stagnant water.  When planting succulents or cacti, use a mix of potting soil and perlite to improve drainage. To tell when a garden needs water, put your down finger into the soil at least 1” and gauge the moisture in the soil. After the first two years, use a gentle, time-release fertilizer (Osmocote) on your containers – once in spring and again in early summer.

The dollhouse miniature industry uses scales of one-inch, half-inch and quarter-inch scale. Each scale is half the size of the other, where the unit of scale is equal to one foot our “full-size” world.
  Large scale = 1" scale = 1:12 = for in ground gardens or large pots.
  Medium scale = 1/2" scale = 1:24 = for tabletop gardens or smaller pots.
  Small scale = 1/4" scale  = 1:48 = for terrariums or tiny pots.

Some garden railroaders let the train run around their full-size garden, others like to make the garden in a scale to match the size of the train.  Garden railroaders using G-Scale, or 1:22 scale, will find it is closest to the half-inch dollhouse scale.

Any porous material (terra cotta) should be brought inside for the winter.   Wood and metal will be okay over winter but you may want to bring them inside to prolong their life.
You can use a wood hardener or wood stabilizer to harden your more delicate unfinished wood accessories. The stabilizer works great with laser cut furniture and stiffens up fragile balsa wood. It is the consistency of white glue and can be painted on with a brush. The wood will be sealed and ready to paint afterwards. that If you want a stained look, stain the plain wood with a wash of acrylic based paint, let dry, and then apply the stabilizer.
If metal miniature garden furniture rusts, it can be sprayed a coat of spray paint to freshen it up. Clean off all the loose debris and dirt and you can sand the rusted parts with an emery board that can get into the corners easily before spray painting. Check the can for the "no CFCs"to make an environmentally friendly purchase..
All color will eventually fade in the sun - as the sun does to full-size garden accessories too. Treat your resin and plastic items with UV protectant spray once in the winter before you use them and again in the middle of summer. Miniature accessories can be painted with water-based acrylic paints. You can water the paint down for washes or stains, or use it full strength for solid colors, combining colors to make any custom shade or tint.

Before moving a miniature garden inside for the winter, stage the it in the garage, a covered porch or put it beside the house (it can be up to 15 degrees warmer beside your house.), leaving it for 3-5 days. Then find a cool place for it indoors with good air circulation.  Light misting will help keep the humidity up.  Water carefully when dry.

My early attempts at creating miniature gardens have included the following:

Outdoor fairy garden in spring before shade plants
grow to fill the area later in the season

Herbs transplanted to a fairy garden to extend
the season to enjoy fresh herbs in our cooking.
A mermaid garden with succulents planted among seashells
collected various beaches over the years
(Hopefully Ariel will someday be replaced with a felted
mermaid when I have some time to give felting a try
sometime this winter)

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