Stillwater News Press

Local Columnists

June 28, 2014

Grow! 06-29-14

Tiny gardens equal big fun

The first garden I ever planted was a cactus garden. It lived in a shallow, stoneware container I purchased during our family vacation to New Mexico.  I wanted to recreate the landscape that so captured my imagination – the fiery colors and bold forms. Little did I know this venture into miniature gardening was something of a career calling.

Today, I still use the same basic principles in designing a miniature landscape, whether in the ground or in a container, that I did at age 11.

In fact, designing a miniature garden is not very different from designing a larger garden, the main difference being plant selection. A good garden has strong structure, generally provided by trees and shrubs that give the garden substance. In miniature gardens we might select dwarf and miniature shrubs such as dwarf boxwood (Buxus sempevirens) or dwarf juniper (Juniperus communis) to provide structure. Even a well pruned perennial can act as a “tree” in a miniature landscape.  Miniature shrubs can also be used to create the backdrop for a more extensive miniature garden. Be sure to add a focal point, such as an ornamental tree or shrub, or a hardscape element such as a fountain or vase.

Gardens also typically have a focal point, maybe a particularly ornamental tree or shrub, or a hardscape element such as a fountain or vase. We can add a focal point in the form of a bonsai tree, a colorful annual, a unique succulent, the possibilities are endless. Flank the accent with miniature plants, groundcovers, and succulents. Select plants of varying heights and sizes to add visual interest and movement through the garden.  Look for interesting shapes, textures or colors. For more expansive miniature gardens, vary the height of the soil surface across the space to add complexity.  

Because miniature gardens are, well, miniature, they can be difficult to view if they are planted at ground level. Raising the garden to eye level allows for maximum visibility.  Miniature gardens can be built inside raised planting beds to bring them closer to eye level. Containerized gardens can be set on tables or otherwise raised to the viewer’s height.  

If growing your miniature garden in a container, don’t forget about drainage. Container gardens need good drainage to prevent root diseases.  Any container used for gardening should have holes drilled in the bottom.

A well-drained soil mixture will also go a long way toward maintaining plant health.

Miniature gardens make great additions to the patio and brighten interior spaces. Why not bring one to the office or give the gift of plants in the form of a ready-made miniature garden? With the ever-growing selection of miniature conifers, succulents and cacti, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Tap into that inner child and create something new.

Kimberly Toscano is assistant extension specialist and host of the OETA television program Oklahoma Gardening, which airs at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 3:30 p.m. Sundays, and assistant director of The Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University.

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