If at some point in your childhood there were faeries living at the bottom of the garden, then you’ll appreciate this project – I call it a doll’s house garden. Why? Well, it’s a green space in miniature. It’s incredibly fun (and easy) to create and maintain. And it’s a nice fit if your gardening space is limited to a balcony or courtyard. Yes it’s out there on the whimsy scale, so if you’re too shy to put it on public display, it also happens to be portable and can easily be tucked out of sight when necessary. Of course you could do what I did – claim that I made it for my children – though you may be pleasantly surprised at the number of people who won’t judge you and will be genuinely captivated by it. Go on… just make one.
1. Your container. The first thing you’ll need is a shallow container to plant into. You’ll see (above) that I’ve made use of a rectangular terracotta pot which is about the size of a large baking tray. In fact, my friend drilled holes in an enamel roasting pan when she made her miniature garden. For something more glamorous, look for pots like this one below that have been designed to be planted with Bonsai.
2. Drainage and soil. This garden is just like any other pot plant. It will need large drainage holes so that water freely runs away and doesn’t hang around to rot the plants’ roots. I cut a piece of fly screen the size of the bottom of the container, then popped in a knuckle’s depth of coarse gravel. (You won’t need much, so look around and raid your driveway or a friendly neighbour’s side path if you can.) And then fill the pot three quarter’s full of potting mix.
3. Have a plan. Make a same-size sketch of the pot on some paper – after all this garden is small enough so you won’t need to scale down your plans. Now’s the fun moment when you draw the garden of your dreams… a small version. There might be a path, a paved patio, a mossy lawn, a shady tree. Think also about garden features – fences, furniture, sculpture. If you’re stuck, type ‘miniature gardens’ into Google images and feast your eyes on the inspiration you’ll find there.
4. Grab what you need. Use your plan to make a checklist of what you need to gather together. Miniature paving can often be found on the beach, beside a creek or out walking through a nature reserve. Your ‘tree’ will probably come from a garden centre where you’ll find a jade plant or any number of Bonsai options. As for ‘shrubs’ and ‘lawns’, look with fresh eyes at what’s on offer. Rockery or alpine plants are great candidates. My approach was to use succulents so that if I forgot to water my garden, it would cope. Take a look below and you can see the ‘bark’ of the jade plant tree and the other assorted succulents mimicking much larger garden plants.
5. Plant and pave. It’s easiest if you put your trees in first; just move the potting mix to one side to make room. Then plant out your garden beds and lawn areas. When you’re happy with the effect, firmly tamp everything down and level off the bare areas of potting mix ready for the paving. You can see below how I’ve laid out my paving stones, then used aquarium gravel to mulch around the garden beds. Your garden will grow and the plants will cover this mulch, but it’s important to have it in place because it keeps everything neater and just like in a real garden, helps the potting mix retain moisture after watering. Finally, water everything in gently.
6. A few extras. Once you’ve created your garden, you’ll start to spot bits and pieces to add to it. Like the chairs I was given by my cousin that are really table-place-name holders. (Yup, much more useful in the doll’s house garden.) Or the miniature Buddha which is now a piece of statuary. My bamboo fence came from a Japanese dime store.
7. Maintenance. Your garden needs light and water to grow. Also like any larger garden you’ll need to pick out the dead leaf litter and sweep up (I had a little doll’s house broom but it’s gone missing). There will be a bit of snipping here and there as it becomes overgrown as well as regular watering. How much water will depend on what type of plants you’ve planted – succulents won’t need much at all (monthly) while a mossy lawn beneath a dwarf cypress will need some spritzing (possibly daily). But really, this type of gardening is a doddle and with hardly any effort, your garden could host a doll’s birthday party at a moment’s notice…