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An interview with Janit Calvo of Gardening in Miniature

by Timber Press on July 16, 2013

in Craft

When a colleague mistook this for a full-sized garden, Janit Calvo knew she was on to something. In reality, this garden is only 10.5 inches wide!

When a colleague mistook the scene in this picture for a full-sized garden, Janit Calvo knew she was on to something. In reality, this garden is only 10.5 inches wide.

How did miniature gardening get its start?

Author Janit Calvo. Photo by Kate Baldwin

Author Janit Calvo. Photo by Kate Baldwin

Miniature gardening has been a part of our history for centuries, we just didn’t call it miniature gardening. The old and new terms still need to work themselves out. Miniature gardening used to be a blanket term for any kind of gardening “small.” Teacup gardening, windowsill gardening, bonsai, rooftop gardening, gnome or fairy gardening, even a small vegetable plot or courtyard was called a miniature garden. We are changing the definition of the term “miniature garden” because, quite frankly, what else would you call it?

Where the idea stemmed from ultimately came from China and the art of bonsai and penjing. We’ve just switched out easier plants to grow and used accessories that were based on our culture, as opposed to the mudmen figures in the tiny Asian scenes. Penjing is the art of potted landscapes. Saikei means “tray scenery” and it is the Japanese equivalent. Bonsai means, “tray planting.” We can use the same plants—or bonsai starts—that bonsai artists use, we just don’t root-prune them to fit them into the shallow, tray-like pots, and so we avoid heavy maintenance that is required to keep a bonsai alive. But note with some plants, we can get the same results: thick trunks and branches that lift the tiny shrub off the ground to look like a little tree. This is another very cool perk of miniature gardening.

How did you get your start in miniature gardening?

Designing sets for greeting cards led naturally to designing miniature gardens.

For Janit and Steve, designing sets for greeting cards led naturally to designing miniature gardens.

It was completely organic. We were toying with different business ideas when we first got married; Steve and I decided to develop a greeting card line from 1/6 scale miniatures. We had props, designs and mini-stages for most rooms in the “house” that covered all kinds of occasions and holidays. When spring fully arrived, I was working at a garden center here in Seattle, and saw a small selection of miniature and dwarf conifers from Oregon that took hold of my imagination and they would not let go. I realized that if I paired these with small-leafed groundcovers I could make a miniature garden backdrop for a garden party invitation for the greeting card line. The idea was born, the miniature gardening took over and the rest is garden historythat was thirteen years ago.

How does your miniature gardening inform your traditional gardening?

I’m not sure it does, save for the ability to grow more plants in more places, and teaches the gardener to grow small. It may be the other way ‘round. Because it’s a tiny version of full-size gardens we use what we know in full-size to inform our miniature gardening. You can play and design any kind of garden that you can imagine, and that makes it much more adaptable and accessible than full-size gardening and even places it in its own segment.

What is the greatest misconception about miniature gardening?

An award-winning miniature garden at the Seattle Miniature Show.

An award-winning miniature garden at the Seattle Miniature Show.

That it is fairy gardening. People often try to blend the two terms for their own purpose into “miniature fairy garden” which, technically, is redundant. We know that fairies are miniatureor at least we supposedly think they are. Whether you believe in fairies or not, you are right. (Henry Ford’s fairies said that. ;o)

Miniature gardening is based in reality; this is where the enchantment is. We use in-scale trees and plants paired with tiny patios and furniture to create a living garden scene. It’s the combination of these elements that deliver the messagethat it is a scaled-down version of a real, living gardennot a make-believe one. Note the realism is where that “Aha!” moment is, or the moment of enchantment, when you really believe that you can shrink down and sit in that garden.

What will your book provide that miniature gardeners can’t get elsewhere?

Experience. The reader will get a genuine blend of the different elements that make up the hobby from my years of experience in creating and selling everything to do with the miniature garden hobby. I have had the opportunity to work with a large number of people in all areas of the country, I have grown and/or killed a wide variety of miniature plants and trees, and I’ve tested and experimented with all types of accessories throughout the years. I’ve made the mistakes for you and bring you what works. The book will fast-forward your learning curve, tell you what works, and get you growing successful miniature gardens.

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Get ready to journey into the huge world of growing small!

1 Hanna Daniels November 18, 2014 at 5:27 am

Sooo cute! I’m totally in love with the idea of making a miniature garden! You are really inspiring! I’m concerned that it will take a long time and too much efforts that I don’t have time for :/

2 Brian Ridder November 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

Hi Hanna! A simple miniature garden can be easily put together in an afternoon. But be careful, once you get started it’s easy to become obsessed!

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