Danny Bonvissuto, HGTV Gardens Contributor

Danny Bonvissuto

Small world: Sedum cuttings make great plants for miniature gardens. All images courtesy of Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center.
Small world: Sedum cuttings make great plants for miniature gardens. All images courtesy of Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center.

Teeny tiny trellises! Itsy bitsy birdbaths! A wheelbarrow so small it only holds a thimble full of dirt! Gardeners are going gaga for living miniature gardens, not only because they’re cute—and they are really, really cute—but because miniature gardens open up a fun fantasy world in which we get to control every square inch of earth.

Janit Calvo, owner of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center, had the big idea to create miniature gardens while working at a garden shop in Seattle and staging miniature scenes for greeting cards on the side. “When spring came around, I decided to stage a garden scene and when I saw the miniature conifers in the garden shop, it was a light bulb moment,” she says. “I went home and built a miniature garden that weekend with the same kinds of layers I’d use in a regular landscape. The most fascinating and rewarding part was that it grew and wove together."

Just like life-sized landscapes, the possibilities for miniature gardens are endless. They can be indoor or outdoor, in-ground or in a pot, small or large and filled with everything from hemlock and Alberta spruces to Japanese hollies, dwarf juniper and baby boxwoods. And then there are the accessories: watering cans, pots, picket fences, bridges, arbors, rabbits, koi fish—even little yellow Wellies for tromping through miniature mud. “I’m introducing the gardening part to miniatures and the miniature part to gardeners,” Calvo says. “It has a bonsai-like feel to it, but not the high-maintenance aspect.”

The tools you need to tend a miniature garden are small as well, so leave your lawnmower in the garage and break out a fork if you need to rake some leaves. “Our biggest pests are squirrels, but we call them squirrel-zillas because they seem so big in miniature gardens,” she says.

One of the best things about miniature gardens is that they can celebrate the seasons by switching out a few accessories. Sure sounds better than hauling boxes of decorations down from the attic, doesn’t it? Here are Calvo’s top five themed miniature gardens, and how she pulled them off:

Miniature Holiday Garden
Deck your tiny halls with bows, garland and battery-powered lights in this miniature garden.
Happy Holidays – Battery-powered bulbs light up a dwarf Alberta spruce in a rock planter with an inset pond. Calvo had the gold garden stakes custom made, but says that Michael’s and Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft stores stock lots of great miniature accessories. “Dwarf conifers want to be outside in the cold and damp, but you can bring them inside for two to five days at a time,” Calvo says. “It’s important to be careful about watering; I’m still waiting for someone to invent outdoor miniature lights.”

Fourth of July – Stonecrop sedum, sedum button, a dwarf Alberta spruce and a small chunk of wood are the backdrop for this Independence Day theme, which is spruced up with a birdhouse, planter, gazing balls, watering can, red wicker chair and a flag that looks like it came right out of the middle of a hamburger. “Red accessories really pop against the green of the garden,” says Calvo, who accidentally watered the scene and warped the tiny box of firecrackers.

Thanksgiving – Necessity was the mother of invention for this Thanksgiving scene, which would’ve been perfect for pint-sized pilgrims. “Whenever I’d water my miniature gardens the stones would wash away,” Calvo says. “So I created a patio mix kit that lets you put in the plants, create your mosaic, then fill in the cracks and finish it.” Dwarf Canadian hemlock provides shade for a spread of pies, cakes, turkey and serving pieces.

Spring Scene – Calvo calls this wooden miniature garden box “the new handbag for spring; you can carry it wherever you want.” She built a patio in the box and landscaped it with Hinoki cypress, dwarf Mondo grass and small hens and chicks. She even painted the theater faces on the wall to make them look weathered.

Spa Scene – Calvo pooled her resources for this serene scene, which includes a gazing ball, driftwood piece, Kingsville dwarf boxwood and volunteer moss. She designed the pond herself, which is made of resin and comes in three shapes—kidney, pear and lagoon—with different edgings to lend themselves to different themes.

Ready to “grow your own world?” Calvo suggests deciding whether you want your miniature garden to go in a pot or in the ground first to help narrow down your plant choices. Then let your imagination run wild on her website, which has lots of how-to information, plus a store for plants accessories and kits.

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