A fascinating form of indooris to construct and cultivate tiny, complete gardens. They can be made in almost any container—a vegetable dish, a bowl, an old-fashioned meat dish of the kind to be picked up at a street-market stall, or even a baking tin. Miniature gardens give particular pleasure in winter and early spring, when flowers are scarce and more time is spent indoors.
If the chosen container hasholes, so much the better. But they are not essential. Indeed, they pose the problem of protecting the polished furniture on which the miniature garden is to stand; a tray has to be put beneath it.
Whether or not the container has drainage holes, cover its base with a 1-in. layer of crocks, small stones or pebbles; they drain moisture from the soil above and keep plant roots from standing in water. Next spread a thin layer of leaves or pieces of coarseto prevent the finer soil from sifting through.
Then add the soil—either John Innes potting compost (without) or equal parts of coarse sand, peat and , with a little crushed charcoal and brick rubble.
The miniature garden can be designed in as many different ways as an ordinary full-scale garden. If it is to be a miniature, pile the soil unevenly to give an informal effect, and introduce small pieces of natural stone here and there. If it is to be a formal garden, little and sunken beds are constructed round small lawns. Thin pieces of stone or slate are used for walls and pathways, and the lawns are sown with grass seed and kept trim with nail scissors. Some of the loveliest miniature gardens are made in Japanese style with small , temples and similar ornaments, and sunken pools made from meat-paste jars.
Whichever style is chosen, the aim is to keep trees, plants and stones all in proportion.
Dwarfpiceas form the trees that are to give height to . A tiny conifer of the cypress family, Chamaecyparis obtusa ericoides, makes a dome-shaped tree a few inches high and wide. Dwarf oak and beech seedlings can be planted in the miniature garden and will last for a few years before they grow too big. Another suitable tree for the miniature garden is a dwarf juniper, Juniperus communis compressa.
Most smalllook well in miniature gardens. Try particularly asturiensis (syn. N. minimus), , dwarf cyclamen and . A small bulb that produces red flowers throughout most of the summer is Rhodohypoxis baurii, which grows only 4 in. high.
Miniature roses can also be included. The dwarf Rosa roulettii (syn. R, chinensis minima) forms are only a few inches tall, with red, pink, white or yellow flowers.
Other plants for the miniature garden are sedums, sempervivums, the muscoides, and kabschia groups of saxifrages, the dwarf,cristata, and Tolmiea menziesii which has rough leaves. Mentha requienii, with a minty smell and blue flowers, is one of the smallest of flowering plants.
The small thrift, Armeria caespitosa, is charming, and there are two delicate varieties of blue-eye grass, Sisyrinchium bermudiana and S. californicum, with small rush-like leaves, the first with blue and the other with yellow flowers.
Once the miniature garden is planted, never let it dry out. It needs daily attention. Occasionally, during a warm shower, stand it outside for rain to wash the foliage. On the other hand, never let it become waterlogged. Miniature gardens in large dishes are probably too unwieldy to drain except through drainage holes, but gardens in smaller bowls can be turned gently on to their sides to let the surplus moisture drain out.
Any shallow container, from a soup plate upwards, could be used for this. Even baskets or wood boxes will do if lined with plastic or a double thickness of cooking foil. If, as is likely, the container does not have anyholes, then a 1 -inch layer of pebbles or charcoal should go in before filling with John Innes Compost No. 2, well moistened, to I inch below the top. The choice of plants should be deter-mined first by where you are going to stand (in light or shade, with or without central heating, and so on), second by their watering needs (don’t mix cacti with plants that need more water) and finally by their growth (some plants which are tiny to start with can leap ahead and dominate the rest).
Low, trailing plants are an obvious choice for the front of the garden, with taller ones further back — perhaps even a little Bonsai tree. The effect is improved if the compost is heaped up a bit towards the back, and a few pebbles or small rocks added. Some people enjoy modellingor urns, making pools from pieces of mirror, adding sea shells, toy birds, of sand, and so forth. Covering the surface with gravel or aquarium chips is a good idea, not merely for appearance but to reduce the evaporation of moisture from the compost. Water loss is a particular problem with these gardens, which have a large surface area. A big plastic bag can be put over the whole container at times, and spraying the leaves is a help. Grass grown from seed and trimmed with scissors will help to conserve moisture.
In choosing plants, try to vary the shapes of the plants and of their leaves and pick contrasting foliage colours. Use your finger or a teaspoon to dig holes large enough to take the plant’s roots without crushing them in. Press the compost down firmly.
A garden like this is best started in spring or early summer, watered adequately (with liquidadded to the water) throughout the growing and flowering months, then fairly drastically thinned out in autumn. Some plants may by then need digging up and dividing in two, or at least cutting back. As with most indoor plants, they appreciate a spell outdoors during summer, but not standing in the full blaze of sun.
Here are some suggestions for plant combinations:
Long-lasting flowers in brilliant pinks and reds are produced by Centaury and Pimpernel if stood in a sunny spot. The former, 2 to 3 inches high, has glossy leaves; the latter is a very low plant, ideal for overhanging the edges of the container. For contrast, add a white miniature Rose (6 to 10 inches high) at the back and a small variety of Pelargonium or a Busy Lizzie cut back regularly to the required size. Keep out of direct sunlight and well watered.
A group of succulents needing very little watering: Cacti are an obvious choice or a collection of Saxifrages of different varieties, green and silvery. They will spread and mingle with one another. The Saxifrages should be kept in light shade. Succulents that can be kept small if not given too much compost include Aloe, Crassula, Sempervivum, Kalenchoe, Sedum and Kleinia. If you choose varieties of different heights these plants can make a very decorative all-year display, needing little attention.
A demure pink and white garden to put where there is no sun (but adequate light) might have in ithederacea (Australian Violets) which are white with purple splashes, Crassula bolusii or cooperi — pink flowers above rosettes of pale green leaves, red on their under-sides, and another variety of Pimpernel — Anagallis collina — which is pink and shade-loving. With them could go a dwarf Cypress or Juniper tree at the back, if the garden gets enough light. As the Crassula needs less watering than the rest, plant it in its own separate pot so that water applied to the others will pass it by.
A miniature bulb garden would be enchanting. You might choose small springlike indoor and for a yellow and white scheme, or Grape or (Glory-of-the-Snow) for their beautiful blue. Add Helxine soleirolii aurea (Baby’s Tears) for an all-over carpet of tiny golden leaves brimming over the edges of the container through which the bulbs can thrust their shoots later. Do not over water. An attractive grouping of with coloured leaf-markings could consist of Tradescantia, Pilea cadierei and Pilea Moon Valley, Nidularium (Bird’s Nest Bromeliad), Scindapsis Marble Queen, Fittonia, Peperomia, Saxifraga sarmentosum and Zebrina.