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Shrinking the design rules for miniature gardens

by Timber Press on July 13, 2013

in Craft, Design

Several focal points in this houseboat scene keep the viewer motivated to look closer.

Several focal points in this houseboat scene keep the viewer motivated to look closer.

Any design process is mixed with a variety of elements; creating a garden is no different in complexity than designing a dress or the interior of a room. You need to know what to look for first, and how the pieces come together into one design. For example, when identifying the anchor point of the garden, you need to consider the balance, too; as you layer plants, textures need to be considered. This may seem complicated, but it is part of the creative fun of designing a garden. More important for the gardening beginner, it will reduce the sometimes overwhelming range of options to a very manageable number, allowing you to get started right away.

Using the basic garden tenets of anchor point, balance, layers, texture, color, and focal point, you can plan your miniature garden with confidence. Understanding all of these elements will help you design like a professional and create a lasting, enchanting miniature garden.

Well-shaped trees, like this ‘Pixie Dust’ dwarf Alberta spruce, make excellent anchor points.

Well-shaped trees, like this ‘Pixie Dust’ dwarf Alberta spruce, make excellent anchor points.

Anchor points
An anchor point in a full-sized garden is usually the largest element: perhaps a planting that is already there and cannot be easily moved. It could be a tall tree in the corner of your yard or, a big fountain that has been there forever, or your deck off the kitchen in the back of the house. Anchor points are also called jumping-off points by designers of full-sized gardens, because the anchors must be part of the design; there is no choice but to work with them. However, in the miniature garden world, an anchor point could be just about anything because you are creating your own scene from scratch. To capture authenticity and realism, use a miniature version of any full-sized anchor point. This can be as simple as the tallest (or only) tree.

Layers
Layering is a design technique you might not think to consider for such a small garden, but it is actually critical to a beautiful scene. Just as in your full-sized garden, layering creates dimensionality and visual interest. Once you have established your anchor point, you can start layering with different plant heights, creating the boundaries or walls of your garden and helping the plants’ transitions between each other. For example, an eight-inch-tall dwarf hinoki cypress and two-inchtall dwarf mondo grass, planted with half-inch-tall ‘Elfin’ thyme, creates three layers in a miniature garden bed.

Everything in a miniature gardens is seen all at once, so balance is essential.

Everything in a miniature gardens is seen all at once, so balance is essential.

Balance
Miniature garden design is much more condensed than full-sized garden planning because the tiny scene is usually viewed all at once, in one eyeful. In a standard-sized garden, one corner of the garden, or one garden bed, is viewed at a time, so there needs to be balance within that section and with the rest of the garden. When you consider balance in the miniature garden, you are judging the complete view of everything all at once: the size of the pot or inground space, shape of the garden bed, tree height and form, size of the patio, and anything else you want to include. It all has to have a pleasing equilibrium, so no one thing overwhelms and distracts from the others. Let your instincts guide you, and as you start to pull the pieces together, be sure to stand back and look at the garden as a whole— getting a glimpse of the finished product.

Form
Form is important because you don’t want all the plants in your miniature garden to be the same shape. Miniature and dwarf plants and trees come in as many forms as full-sized plants. Upright narrow, broad, spreading, globular, and trailing are just some of the overall plant shapes. Combine tall, narrow trees with globe-shaped shrubs, include a trailing groundcover, and you’ve combined a trio of interesting forms that are layered nicely, will be balanced in shape, and are great for any mediumsized pot.

Include contrasting textures and colors for added interest.

Include contrasting textures and colors for added interest.

Texture
Texture in garden design refers to variety in foliage. A small boxwood tree with tiny, broad leaves has a completely different texture than a spiky-needled mugo pine. The small but thick leaves of a groundcover sedum have a chunky texture, compared to those of finely textured woolly thyme. Combine contrasting textures to create a more interesting design and define the plants in your garden bed.

Color
Color is an exciting component of miniature design that is often overlooked by the fledgling gardener. Stop to notice on your next trip to the local nursery, and you’ll find that there are a variety of greens, from light and bright to dark and rich. Blue-greens can vary from almost gray to a bluish turquoise. To create a vibrant design, keep one primary foliage color consistent throughout the garden. Too many variations of the same color in such a small garden can look aimless and unplanned. Add interest with contrasting foliage, miniature brown sedge, or one of the chocolate-colored sedums, for example.

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The more interesting the focal point, the more intriguing the garden.

Focal points
The focal point in a garden is the element the eye is most drawn to. What is the difference between an anchor point and a focal point? The anchor point is usually the largest natural element—often the tallest tree. In both full-sized and miniature gardens, the focal point is often a functional or décor component: a fountain, garden sculpture, or bench at the end of a path. One of the secrets to miniature gardening is that the focal point sets the scale, with other garden elements relating to that feature. Once a tiny bench is added, the plants that surround it suddenly shift in your mind’s eye to the scale of the bench.

Because you are creating your garden from scratch, and ideally have no focal point already established, you have the luxury of creating your own. Birdbaths and seating areas are popular eyecatchers, but if you have something special— perhaps a memento from a cherished trip—by all means, make it your focal point.

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Text from Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World by Janit Calvo
Photography by Kate Baldwin

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Click image for a look inside this book:

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Several focal points in this houseboat scene keep the viewer motivated to look closer.

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

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Wingz July 31, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Nice set of tips, thank you for sharing!

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