Miniature gardens in pots

The Best Plants for an Indoor Fairy Garden

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Miniature Garden Plants: Secrets to Success

Our old miniature garden, back in 2007, dressed for Father’s Day. The Tompa Spruce was called a dwarf back then, now it’s called a true miniature, with a growth rate of less than 1″ per year.

I love it when a great idea comes together…

When I stumbled on to this idea at the end of the last century, (I’ve been dying to use that) I spent the first couple of years killing plants. I thought I could trick plants into doing what I wanted them to do. I thought that just because the plant had small leaves, it would make a good miniature garden plant. But, alas, no.

It was through endless trial and error that I found out what plants “work” best for the miniature garden. Way back then, when I began my quest, there were no books, no websites, no links, not a thing that I could turn to for guidance, to find out what plants to use. So, it was all about buying it and trying it – for years. And I still do it to this day.

Our old miniature garden, today, March 14, 2012. Same plants, same pot, same patio. Just looking a little soggy in the Seattle rain…

You see, creating your miniature garden can be as simple as sending the kids out to the garden to look for small plants. You just know they will come back with the first plant they will find, including flowering weeds and baby plants.

Or, with a little research beforehand, you can create your miniature garden to include reliable and slow-growing miniature garden plants that are tried, tested and true.

The joy of miniature gardening is the blend of crafting and gardening. The crafting part is the creation of your idea and putting together your garden. The gardening part is choosing what plants suit your idea AND growing the plants together as a garden. So, you will want to use the golden rule, “right plant, right place” to find what plants work for the space where you want to grow the garden in. It’s the same rule that you use in the full-sized garden, just shrunk down to miniature. Makes sense, right?

So, here’s a quick list of what’s being suggested as good miniature garden plants on the internet that are not on the old Two Green Thumbs’ list of tried and true plants for well-behaved, miniature garden plants. It’s not that I don’t like these plants – but some would do better in a larger, in-ground miniature garden and some are better for big pots if you must use them, in my humble-but-size-obsessive-opinion. ;o)

OUTDOOR PLANTS

  • Carpet Bugle/Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) – Some varieties are very invasive when planted in-ground in some regions. The Ajuga is more successful in miniature gardens in containers because you can control it, trim back new growth when you see it. (Pictured above, it has “bonsai’d” itself in this pot, but technically the leaves are too big for the tree.)
  • Cranesbill/Heronbill/Storksbill (Erodium x. variabile) – Some varieties seed like crazy! Kinda boring when not in bloom. Use for larger, in-ground miniature gardens rather than pots. When it spreads, it is pretty when it blooms.
  • Carnation Plant (Dianthus) – Kinda boring when not flowering, which is most of the year. I have a hard time trying to figure out when and how to divide this – and disturb the beautiful mound that it grows into. But if it’s not divided, the center of the mound will start to yellow as the weather warms up to summer.
  • French Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – Culinary Thyme looks just darling as a baby in a 4” pot, but it is the ground cover variety that we want – not the culinary type. It’s okay though, we all have tried it at least once. It works great in a fairy garden where scale isn’t a necessity.

  • Golden Oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’) – See above. But the ground cover varieties spread really quickly. The leaves are a bit too big too.

Two inch baby plants can easily look like “miniature garden plants because they are small and cute – for now. Just wait a month or two.

INDOOR PLANTS

  • (Some) Begonias – A lot of the Begonias look great as baby plants, but look for the more compact, smaller-leafed varieties. Some Begonias grow to an adorable 6” – 8” high, like the Begonia Cleopatra or Begonia Maphil. Begonia partita is a particular favorite. (Pictured below.)
  • Coleus – I know, I know, it’s the COLOR! Lol! But the leaves are just too big and it grows way too fast. Admit it.
  • Creeping Charlie (Pilea nummulariifolia) – Leaf size is perfect, I wish it would grow a lot slower!
  • Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes) – I know it’s the color that we fall for but, keep reading…

Now before you go sending me emails because you found your favorite miniature garden plant on this list, know that we are scale/sized obsessed because that is our job here at Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center. But, if you do stop to think about it, would you plant a huge, fast-growing, big-leafed, pink, polka-dotted bush in your full-sized garden that you would pull out after three months because it got too big?

Or, would you choose the right plant for the right place and find something that will grow AND look good for at least a full year, or a lot longer, like a full-sized garden design?

What works? See the plants in our store to see what we have been using, with success, for years, right here.

Begonia partita at right, with a Variegated English Boxwood and a Dwarf Mondo Grass. This is a reasonably well-behaved combination for indoors. The Begonia will be the first plant out grow this garden, unless we trim it into a bigger tree. The angel reminds me of my angel-loving Mom. Find the Boxwood and Mondo Grass up in the online store.

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Make a Miniature Garden

Tabletop gardens typically combine a shallow container with petite plants or dwarf varieties and, if you like, other pipsqueak features — a miniature gazebo, pebbled path, and decorative doodads — to make an enchanting scene that rewards curiosity.

The plants we’ve chosen, although not all true miniature or dwarf varieties, are diminutive growers that will suit a small garden for at least one growing season. If plants grow too big for the space, simply trim them back. In warm climates, enjoy your container garden outdoors year-round.

Where winters are cold, store the garden in a protected place, such as an insulated garage, when freezing temperatures loom.

See all four of our mini-projects for attainable dwarf landscapes!

Tray Garden

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Transform a large tray and a collection of small-scale plants into an enchanted landscape. From the teeny-tiny glass house to itty-bitty tools and thimble-size pots, the design works as a study in detail.

Set it on a sturdy plant stand or in the middle of a dining table for a captivating scene. Make a similar landscape in a smaller tray to fit a windowsill or shelf.

Materials

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  • 13-x-30-x-2-inch metal boot tray
  • Hammer
  • Awl or large nail
  • Pea gravel
  • Coarse sand
  • Potting mix
  • Tabletop terrarium
  • Miniature fountain, fencing, benches, garden tools, and pots
  • Aquarium gravel
  • Plant stand
  • Sawara cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cannon Ball’)
  • Thrift (Armeria spp.)
  • Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum ‘Sanford Hybrid’ and ‘Cobweb’)
  • Alpine white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Witches Broom’)
  • Stonecrop pink spurium (Sedum coccineum)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’)
  • Dwarf wintercreeper (Euonymus ‘Kewensis’)
  • Bronze Dutch clover (Trifolium repens ‘Atropurpureum’)
  • Dwarf Canadian hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis ‘Burkett’s White Tip’)

Directions

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  1. Using a hammer and awl or large nail, poke holes for drainage about every 6 inches in the bottom of the metal tray.
  2. Cover the bottom of the tray with a 1/2-inch-deep layer of two parts pea gravel and one part coarse sand. Top with a layer of potting mix, mounding it at least 2 inches deep.
  3. Add plants, beginning with the largest specimens (dwarf conifers and succulents) and filling in with alpines and ground covers. When planting, gently loosen root balls and shake loose extraneous soil, if necessary, to tuck the roots into the potting mix. Leave room for pathways and your selection of miniature features, such as a glass house (tabletop terrarium), fountain, and other accessories.
  4. With the plants and furnishings in place, sprinkle aquarium gravel over any exposed potting mix to prevent erosion.
  5. Water thoroughly after planting; thereafter, water only when the potting mix feels dry.
  6. To prevent damage to furniture, place the container on a waterproof tray before setting it on your plant stand or table.
  7. Place the garden in a lightly shaded area where it will not bake in the sun.
  8. In cold climates, move the tray indoors for winter. A cool room with bright light is best.

Tabletop Garden

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Use ground covers to create an astonishingly lush tabletop. Creeping ground covers form a flat, firm surface, while sprawling plants spill over the edges.

In about a month, five 4-inch plants, split up for planting in a pattern, will cover a 21-inch-diameter tabletop.

  • Steel-wire plant table
  • Landscaping fabric
  • Moisture-retentive crystals
  • Potting mix
  • Log moss
  • Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) — top left and right
  • Prostrate peppermint (Mentha piperita) — center
  • Gold Scotch moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’) — left center
  • Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoides ‘Brilliant’) — right front

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  1. Line the tabletop with landscaping fabric, tucking and folding it to fit.
  2. Blend moisture-retentive crystals with potting mix according to package directions. Fill the tabletop with potting mix.
  3. Tuck log moss in between the tabletop and the landscape fabric to camouflage the fabric and give the table a softer look.
  4. Nestle the other plants into the potting mix, planting at the same level they grew in their nursery pots.
  5. Situate the table in a sunny place. Water thoroughly and regularly to keep the soil moist.
  6. Trim sprawlers regularly to keep them growing low and lush.
  7. If you live in a cold-climate region, lift the plants out of the tabletop in early fall and transplant them into the garden. That way they’ll provide you with divisions for replanting in spring.

Moss Garden

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Escape into a lush and tranquil realm, reminiscent of a forest floor, where mosses flourish and mushrooms sprout.

Designate this textural garden as an ideal place to display a few geological treasures, gathered on a trip or saved for special memories they hold.

Set the planter in a shady spot where the mosses will thrive, given consistent moisture. Set the basin on a tabletop or bring the garden closer to eye level by putting it on a pedestal.

  • Concrete birdbath (with separate basin and pedestal)
  • Pea gravel
  • Moisture-retentive crystals
  • Potting mix (that contains fertilizer)
  • Geodes and decorative stones
  • Decorative mushrooms and other ornaments
  • Clover (Trifolium spp.) — on the left
  • Log moss (Neckera complanata) — in the center
  • Club moss/trailing spikemoss (Selaginella kraussiana) — on the top right

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  1. Cover the bottom of the birdbath basin with a 1-inch layer of pea gravel.
  2. Blend moisture-retentive crystals with potting mix, according to package directions. Fill the basin with potting mix, mounding it up to 4 inches above the rim.
  3. Cover the mound with a blanket of fresh log moss and a sprig of clover, if desired. Leave room to plant the club moss (or trailing spikemoss).
  4. Place decorative rocks, ornamental mushrooms, and other natural-looking accents here and there, nestling them into the moss so they won’t tumble out.
  5. Use club moss as an accent planting, positioning it behind the large geode.
  6. Shower the garden regularly to keep it moist, green, and lush.

Basket Garden

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Think of this basket of mints as a multipurpose garden: edible, portable, and even a source of entertainment.

Placed atop a copper tray and wrought-iron stand, it’s ready for serving refreshments at your next outdoor get-together. Move the basket to a dining table and use it as a centerpiece or as a dessert tray.

Either way, it helps you serve a little surprise with a touch of elegance, whether you snip the plants for aromatic garnishes in drinks or mince and sprinkle the bits on desserts.

Encourage guests to pinch off and whiff the mints for an uplifting ritual after a meal. Stimulate conversation by guessing the mints’ flavors. And if mint isn’t your cup of tea, so to speak, you can substitute other sweet-flavor herbs.

  1. Give the basket a dark, coppery finish that coordinates with the tray by first roughly sanding the outside of the basket and then brushing on dark gray or black exterior stain and dabbing on sienna and copper outdoor paints. Let dry.
  2. Line the basket with landscaping fabric, tucking and folding the corners and curves. Fill the basket at least halfway with potting mix.
  3. Plant a selection of mints, covering and filling in between the root balls with potting mix. (We started with a 17-1/2-inch basket and one of each mint variety in 3-inch pots.)
  4. Water thoroughly after planting. Keep the basket — on a copper serving tray atop a plant stand — in partial shade, where mints thrive.
  5. Water regularly to keep the soil moist. Snip the herbs regularly to keep them looking lush. If flowers begin to form, pinch them off.
  6. At the end of the growing season, take cuttings of the plants and grow them indoors over winter for a set of new garden-ready plants come spring.

Top Plants for Fairy Gardens

1. Silver Sprinkles Plant (Top Left)

Allow the top inch of soil to dry before watering, and protect it from hot afternoon sun. It forms a low tangled groundcover, setting down roots along the stems.

2. Spikemoss (Top Right)

Sometimes called clubmoss, this plant does best in terrariums or humid Wardian cases. It grows very slowly, so do not expect it to become a groundcover.

3. Weeping Fig (Bottom)

Leaves of ‘Tiny Limey’ are smaller than other F. microcarpa, and both work equally well for bonsai and miniature gardens. Prefers well-drained but moist soil.

4. Polka-Dot Plant

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Available in pink, red, or white, this is a favorite of fairy gardeners. Pinch the tips to keep it down in size.

5. Gray Lavender Cotton

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Aromatic gray or green foliage can be trimmed and shaped for small gardens. Very drought-tolerant when established, with bright yellow blooms in summer.

6. Mexican Heather

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This pretty shrub can be kept small with pruning, and it can be shaped into a topiary, as well. Heat-tolerant. Regular water and full sun will keep it blooming.

7. Golden Japanese Stonecrop

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This bright golden sedum enjoys gentle morning or evening sun. Hot midday sun will beat it down, though it tolerates hot weather. Drought-tolerant.

8. Wood Sorrel

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This noninvasive relative of wood sorrel shows off pink and purple leaves all the time, and it also sports bright yellow flowers when in bloom.

9. Fuschia Begonia

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This tiny begonia looks similar to a fuschia, but it really is a begonia. Allow it to dry a bit between waterings. Give it morning sun — no hot afternoon sun.

10. Elfin Thyme

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Forms a very low mat of ultra-tiny green leaves, then covers itself in deep-pink blooms in late spring. Requires regular watering in well-drained soil. Best outdoors.

11. Variegated Artillery Plant

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Perfect for humid terrariums or fairy gardens, this Pilea needs occasional pinching at the tips to keep the plant small. Look for the plain green-leafed version, too.

12. Dwarf Umbrella Plant

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Schefflera make a nice choice for those new to bonsai. Water thoroughly after soil becomes very dry. Pinch tips to shape.

13. Miniature Oakleaf Creeping Fig

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Its preference for low light and high humidity make this pretty little vine a good choice for terrariums or moist dish gardens.

14. Coleus

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Upright coleus with small leaves make a bright focal point in miniature gardens. Some can be trained to a single stem by removing side foliage.

15. Ripple Peperomia

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Available in burgundy or green, this little plant is a nice addition to a terrarium, growing to only about 6 inches tall. Soil should be moist but well-draining.

16. Bugleweed

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Every spring, this leafy groundcover plant sends up bloom stalks covered in deep-blue flowers. It goes dormant in cold-winter climates.

17. Golden Monterey Cypress

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Soft to the touch, this dwarf cypress needs full sun for bright gold color, but it prefers temperatures in 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit range. Allow soil to dry slightly before watering.

18. Golden Creeping Speedwell

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Forms a nearly flat carpet of small round leaves; blooms with light blue flowers in summer. Drought-tolerant once established.

19. Dwarf Ixora

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This dwarf slow-growing shrub has a naturally rounded shape. It blooms repeatedly in full sun, but make sure it gets regular water.

20. Asparagus Fern

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Not a true fern, this plant is more tolerant of dry indoor air than real ferns are. Prefers bright, indirect light over full shade. Soil should be well-drained.

21. Dwarf Arrowhead Plant

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This dwarf version of the popular houseplant makes a good choice for a terrariums, as it grows only 4-6 inches tall.

  • By Susan Appleget Hurst

During spring, with the topic of RHS Chelsea being a top attraction, the entire subject of gardens is always ameliorated into the position of centre stage. It’s all about structure, landscaping, planting, colours, scent, water and above all else, enjoyment. Hurrah, that’s just as it should be. It’s the time of year when we all become even more enthusiastic about everything ‘planty’ and we take home a desire to improve our own little patch of paradise, if only in miniature. Talking of which… ‍

Miniature is really gaining momentum. Take this tiny word to the extreme and everything becomes completely absorbing. You can create micro gardens in a literal sense –it’s a hobby that is taking hold and romping away even faster than spring growth. Gardens in little containers are fascinating and they don’t need to be fancy – an old broken pot, a ceramic dish or a wooden box will do. How about a garden in a shoe; a galvanised pail; an upturned trough or just a simple seed tray? What’s the most original container you can think of?

You can place some miniature people, sitting at their tiny garden bench.

You can become a groundworks engineer; a builder; an architect; a plantsperson; a king or queen of your own empire. Miniature gardens are BIG. This is a chance to build the treehouse of your dreams, to play in the shrubbery, to string up your hammock and to create a maze. What joy!

Maybe your little people might need a micro-bike so they can go for a ride? Plants, flowers, houses and even fairies can find homes within a miniature garden. They offer huge potential for fun and offer acres of opportunity for the imagination to run wild! The secret ingredients are simple: pay attention to detail and inject enthusiasm into the job.

So how do you go about creating a miniature garden? It’s not difficult:

  • Choose a container! Let it speak to you – a rustic base calls for a wild and free garden; a glazed perfect blue pot might suit a formal blue-themed garden.

  • Partially-fill your container with a sub-base such as sand or gravel. A draining hole aids plant health.
  • Top up the level with compost. Your garden doesn’t have to be flat, some hills and valleys might make a good feature!

  • Design your style – do you want your garden to be a woodland glade; a ‘natural’ landscape; a neat and formal garden; a vegetable patch; a tropical paradise; a watery glen; even a cave?
  • Gather together lots of useful things. Something suitable for paving; some tiny pea shingle; coarse sand; a suitable building; some tiny fences; garden benches; small tables; perhaps some little people or animals for your whimsical setting. These can be purchased or made by hand, the choice is yours.
  • Next comes the best bit! Source some plants. You will want specimens with tiny leaves so the scale looks comfortable within its setting. You could consider Buxus, Ivy, tiny conifers, Pittosporum and others. How about using house plants such as moneyplants: Crassula ovata; Echevieria or even tiny cactus plants? Or some air plants such as Tillandsia? Naturally a bonsai tree of some sort would be ace! Include some ground cover to make a lush green carpet but vary the ground plane covering in order to achieve an illusion of size. Make sure the conditions you are providing suit the plants: right plant, right place still applies, even in miniature gardens.
  • After all that, it’s fun all the way. The garden of your dreams can take shape right in front of your eyes. You might need a glue gun and perhaps some tiny tacks and a miniature hammer but you will enjoy constructing your own little paradise..

Be prepared to prune your plants once they get out of hand. But don’t skimp on planting – pack them in and encourage them to form plant ‘communities’ as they would in a real garden. Utilise moss and creeping groundcover such as clover; dwarf chamomile and even some mind your own business (soleirolia); and something like rosemary ‘Prostratus’ or thyme that will tumble over the edges of your container

Get your structure and your planting in, then you can add finishing touches such as sheds, seating, people and animals. This is playing for grown-ups, but the kids will love to get involved too

.

Need some containers? Take a look here to see if anything talks to you – then let your imagination go wild in miniature!

Miniature Indoor Gardens

You can create wonderful miniature gardens in large plant containers. These gardens can have all the features that belong to a normal garden such as trees, shrubs and flowers. You can create a miniature garden using plants that have been created to be dwarfs genetically, or young plants. You can also use regular plants with growth that has been slowed. Keep reading to learn more.

Best Plants for Indoor Miniature Gardens

Young plants can serve your purposes for a miniature garden for only a short period of time. Once they grow too big, you’ll have to transplant them to their own pot. Be sure to place plants together that have similar needs; if their needs are all different (one needing more water and one needing

dry potting mix, for example), they will not survive.

If you crowd the roots, the above ground part of the plant will remain small. To slow growth, plant them only a few inches away from each other. If you use little stainless steel woven baskets to put the plants in before planting in the main container, their roots cannot spread out and grow, but they can still absorb water and nutrients.

Plants well suited to this type of display are:

  • Coleus (Coleus)
  • English ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Rubber tree species (Ficus)
  • Hawaiian schefflera (Schefflera arboricola)
  • Aucuba (Aucuba)
  • Ti plant (Cordyline fruitcosa)
  • Croton (Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum)
  • Various species of dracaena (Dracaena)

Miniature Plants for a Miniature Garden

Mini plants are also in fashion. Do you want a miniature rose garden on your windowsill? The cultivar ‘Colibri’ will give you red flowers, ‘Baby Masquerade’ is orange and ‘Dwarf Queen’ and ‘Dwarf King’ are pink.

Some other plants that are offered as minis include:

  • African violets
  • Cyclamen
  • Begonias
  • Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum)
  • Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
  • Impatiens (Impatiens)
  • Azaleas (Rhododendron)
  • Leafy cacti varieties

Don’t count on these to last forever, though. In the nursery, these plants were quite often treated with a chemical that inhibited their growth. Once in your hands, they will eventually grow normally.

You can also purchase complete systems for cultivating miniature plants, with complete instructions, from garden centers.

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