In Sea Glass Sunrise, heroine Hannah McCrae’s younger sister, Fiona, creates miniature garden centerpieces for their brother, Logan McCrae’s, wedding reception. The gardens featured wee Maine-themed settings, including one that had the McCrae’s very own Pelican Point lighthouse.
I fell in love with miniature gardening a few years ago after stumbling upon the most darling little miniature gardening shop in Dayton, Virginia. (Check out Landscapes in Miniature, owned by Pam Shank, on Facebook & Etsy!) Pam also makes miniature wedding cake toppers, and it was that combination that gave me the idea to have Fiona create wedding centerpieces in the first book of my Brides of Blueberry Cove miniseries. I’ve been an avid flower gardener forever, as well as a crafter, so this combined two of my favorite things in one. I was hooked immediately!
I thought you might have fun creating your own miniature garden, so what follows is a very basic guide to get you started.
Featured in The Brides of Blueberry Cove Book 1: Sea Glass Sunrise
STEP 1: GATHER YOUR SUPPLIES
A: Garden Container: You’ll need a container. (The sky is the limit on containers. I’ve seen them done in everything from open suitcases to Mr. Coffee coffee pots.) For my Maine theme garden, I found a beautiful plaster conch shell.
B: Drainage: you’ll need gravel and charcoal, both easily obtainable from your local hardware store’s garden section.
C: Soil: Unless you’re going to plant succulents, you can use most any potting soil. I recommend the kind that does not have fertilizer already mixed in, as you can’t control how the fertilizer pellets are distributed. I get my own container of plant fertilizer and sprinkle it in as I plant.
D: Ground Cover: If you like a green ground cover, you’ll also need moss. You can buy moss in bags, often in a variety of color and textures, at your local craft/hobby store.
E: You’ll need a bit of hardware, too. Get some flat topped nails, some Liquid Nail or 450 Glue, and florist pins. The nails and adhesive you can get at the hardware store. The florist pins can also be found at the hobby shop, often in the same aisle with the moss. Look for the wreath-making aisle. If you want brown ground cover, chopped up brown mulch works really well. We won’t be using that in this garden. As this is a partial beach scene, I will use sand as ground cover.
F: Pathways & Walls: Next, a variety of decorative rocks from small to large, depending on the planned garden.
G: Plants: There are many plants that work well in miniature gardening. If you don’t have a local greenhouse/nursery, the internet is a treasure trove of info on what plants work best in miniature. Try to choose plants that have similar lighting and watering needs. For this garden, I chose Bonsai Grass, as it had a “sand dune grass” feel to it, and Aquamarine Pilea, as it makes a lovely drape that hangs over the edge of the planter. I also included a small air plant. More on that one later!
H: Garden Décor: And finally, and perhaps the most fun, you need to find your wee decorative bits and bobs to create your garden scene. This can be something as simple as a little house, a wee sign, or a little bench seat. For this garden, I found a wonderful lighthouse created by designer Jim Shore. I added small Adirondack chairs, a handmade stick fence, and, from Pam Shank’s amazing wedding themed stash, two small glass champagne flutes, and a bottle of champagne in a wee bucket of ice. It’s all too adorable, really!
STEP 2: PREPPING YOUR CONTAINER
If your container has drainage holes, you don’t need to add the substrate to the bottom, but it can still help to keep the drainage holes clear of dirt clogs and root bundles. I use a layer of gravel and charcoal in the bottom of the container. Then scoop in the potting soil until the container is mostly full. The soil will settle, so don’t be afraid to fill it up. You can always scoop some back out, but you don’t want your garden to sink into the container where it won’t be seen. Sprinkle in your fertilizer.
STEP 3: DESIGN PLANNING
Now set your basic pieces—in this case the lighthouse and the chairs—in the container and start figuring out how you want to layout your garden. In this case, the chairs are kind of big in comparison to the lighthouse, but I want to add my wedding elements, so I can’t go much smaller. I don’t mind much about scale, but you can work according to what’s pleasing to the eye. In this case, I decide to build a hill so I can place the lighthouse higher than the chairs. This way it appears as if the lighthouse is up on a promontory, and the chairs are below, on the beach.
To create the hill, I simply add in more dirt. The shell base is configured to provide support for this. If your container is really large, you can use pieces of florist foam as filler in the bottom, so you don’t have to use as much dirt. Just make sure you leave enough room above the foam so the plants can take root in the dirt.
Walls & Pathways: In this garden, there won’t be a pathway, but I do think that a rock wall will be just the thing to support my hill. I need all the room I can get on the lower section for my chairs, so I build a rock wall by stacking rocks and pushing them into the hillside to create a more vertical front edge.
STEP 4: PLANTS
Now it’s time to begin adding your plants. Start with adding the plants where you think you’ll want them to go, based on your earlier design planning. You can always move them around later. I added my Bonsai grass to the upper level, on either side of the lighthouse, and added the Pilea to the sides of the bottom area.
STEP 5: DÉCOR PREP
Now you have your basic design going, it’s time to prep your bigger décor elements. To stabilize your larger pieces, I learned a few tricks of the trade from Pam. One of the best and simplest, is to glue flat head nails to the underside the piece, so you can insert the nails into the dirt, thereby keeping those pieces from moving when you’re watering your garden later. In the photos here, I’ve attached nails to the bottom of my lighthouse and my rocks for the bottom row of the rock wall. I will use the same glue used to attach the nails, to glue the rocks together as I build the wall up. A trick I learned for propping the pieces so the nails don’t slide off as the adhesive dries, is to simply stick them, head first, into a cup of your potting soil. Any soil can be brushed or rinsed off when you unearth them later.
STEP 6: GROUND COVER
While your nails are drying, it’s time to add your moss where you want green ground cover. This helps to stabilize your décor pieces as well. Take bits of your moss and start tucking them in around your plants, leaving space for your design pieces. Secure the moss into place using the florist pins. Tuck them in all the way, the fluff the moss a little to hid the silver tops. I chose to add moss around the Bonsai Grass at the top, but I left the bottom area moss free, as I am going to add sand there to create a beach scene.
STEP 7: FINAL DESIGN
Now you’re ready to assemble your garden! Insert your design pieces, then add all the tiny details to create your planned scene. In my case, I realize my rock wall is taking up too much room in the bottom area, so I take them out. Instead, I use a little handmade stick fence to create my “wall” between the upper section and lower. It reminds me of sand dune fencing, so I think it will be perfect for my beach scene. You can add nails to this as well, on either end of the fence line.
Once I’m good with my “wall,” I put my lighthouse in and do any finishing work with the moss on the upper section. Then I arrange my chairs, and sift a nice layer of sand in over the dirt. I start with heavier silica sand, so it coats the dirt, then add actual fine beach sand on top. I decide the Pilea takes up too much room, to I remove the one on the back side of the planter, leaving the one on the front to drape over the edge.
Then I add my little champagne flutes by using a dab of 450 Glue to attach them to the arms of the Adirondack chairs, and I plant my champagne bucket in the sand.
But it’s still not looking complete for me. So I add an air plant to side that I’d removed the Pilea from earlier. Air plants are great for beachy scenes, no soil needed! In fact, no soil is important, as the moisture can rot the bottom of an air plant. (Hence “air” plant.) In this case, that works perfect for me, as I can prop it on the edge of the planter, away from the dirt. This gives me the greenery I need on that side, without taking up valuable design space. I add a few wee starfish to the chairs for a bit more beach, and I’m done!
STEP 8: GARDEN MAINTENANCE
Water your plants by using something with a small pour spout (I use a small tea pot I found in an antique flea market, because what is cuter to water your miniature garden with, than an antique tea pot?) For the air plant, I merely mist with water every few days. This works well, as the misting doesn’t interfere with the watering needs of the Bonsai Grass and Pilea. Water carefully and slowly so you don’t flood your garden scene. I put the tip of the water spout right next to or under the plant and dribble the water in. Trim your plants as they grow to keep them small. And if they stubbornly insist on getting too big for the garden, you can always take them out and plant them in something bigger, and put new, younger plants in their place. (The bigger plants just give you an excuse to create a bigger garden scene for them! Win-win, really.) Depending on the plants used, find the right lighting spot to sit your garden in for maximum plant health and maximum enjoyment by you!
This is just a wee taste of miniature gardening. I hope you’ll give it a try! The possibilities are endless and only limited by your imagination. (And if you don’t feel you have the creativity needed, go online and do a miniature or fairy garden image search to get ideas.) Indoor, outdoors, in containers, and in your garden…have fun! (And send me photos of your creations! firstname.lastname@example.org I’m always looking for more inspiration.) Warning: miniature gardening is addictive!