Planting a miniature garden

Whether it is babies, puppies or dollhouses, people love miniatures.

A few years ago I discovered a spider’s nest outside my window. The babies had just emerged from their mother’s egg case and although they were spiders, those tiny black dots with legs crawling all over the window sill prompted me to say, “aww.”

So it’s not unusual that gardeners love miniature plants. In most cases miniature plants are used in railroad and fairy garden designs because, after all, toy trains are fun and fairies already live in our gardens.

“You know fairies aren’t real,” my daughter told me when I suggested planting a fairy garden.

“Sure they are,” I told her. “They live in the hearts and minds of those who remember childhood stories and fantasies. And I’m going to give them a garden.”

Fairy garden designs are so popular that many garden centers offer workshops on how to get started. Visit Pinterest, gardening blogs and websites and you can find hundreds of photos, designs and ideas for miniature gardens.

Miniature gardens can be planted just about anywhere and in any container. Don’t toss out that rusty wheelbarrow or old galvanized wash tub. Plant a garden instead. I’ve seen miniature gardens in everything from old boots to apple crates. You don’t have to include a fairy house, tiny picket fences or marble “gazing balls” setting on top of golf tees, but you can fill your small space with plants.

Miniature plants aren’t just small plants. They also have small leaves or fronds and tiny flowers. Let me name a few:

Commonly known as sweet flag, Acorus is a genus of plants that grows in bogs and streams because it loves moist soil. A species known as Acorus minima is a miniature version that works well in terrariums or small dish gardens. This plant resembles tufts of grass and stays small at around four to six-inches tall. If your miniature garden is going to be outside, this one is hardy to our zone 5.

For a little color and something that can be trained into a tree-shape, consider Breynia disticha nana, otherwise known as dwarf snowbush. A tropical plant, Breynia won’t stay outside for the winter, but its lovely white and green variegated leaves will add appeal to any dish garden.

Another little plant that gives the appearance of grass is Eleocharis radicans, or miniature rush. I like this little plant because it gets little flower balls on the tips of each leaf blade. It is an inside plant, at least during the winter, and prefers partial sun to shade and loves moist soil.

Selaginella Kraussiana aurea, or spikemoss, is a terrarium plant that can’t be ignored. It clings to the ground with feathery leaves that gives the appearance of a tiny fern. While the aurea species spreads along the soil, the species `brownii’ stays in a little ball like a pin-cushion. A tropical plant, don’t leave this one outdoors, in the hot sun or allow it dry out. These requirements make it perfect for terrariums.

Ask your garden centers to order these plants for you, and I’m sure they will be happy to oblige as they aren’t usually kept in stock.

Miniature plants that are kept in stock at local garden centers, however, include miniature African violets and groundcover sedums with small leaves and flowers similar to true miniature plants.

Plant a miniature garden this summer and you might just find a surprise in your garden. Who knows, perhaps that colorful butterfly you see in the garden at dawn is really a fairy in disguise.