We've Got the Dirt on Miniature Gardening
by Meredith M. Deal
photography by Elizabeth Skenes Millen
Taking her love of gardening to another small, but significant level, Elizabeth Millen, our publisher, recently experienced a fun afternoon learning all about miniature gardening from ACE Garden’s “miniature and all things gardening” expert Freda Tawney. Elizabeth learned how to create her own miniature garden, and it has brought her great joy.
Stoking whimsical creativeness, miniature gardening is has gained great popularity at ACE Garden on St. Simons Island, where they have dedicated almost two aisles to this art form. We found a plethora of mini-garden creatures, characters (think tiny yard art) adorable cast trees and shrubs, reflecting balls, castles, huts, fairies of all sizes, as well as all shapes and sizes of containers, vessels, bowls, drawers, hanging containers, light and heavy pots. Add potting soil, rocks, gravel, sand and moss in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes and it’s a garden; each with a story to tell.
Elizabeth’s garden was built from a small gnome using a book as a tent. An avid reader, Elizabeth was immediately drawn to the little guy. “This is it. The book is a tent. I want to create a wisdom garden where he is the mayor,” she said. From there, she began picking out other little creatures to dwell in the miniature wisdom garden. Freda joined in the fun, creating a story for each character added to the plot.
Selecting a theme helped Elizabeth select her garden dwellers:
>> three hootie owls
>> reading chair (comfy place with cup of tea and stack of books)
>> shade tree (live fern)
>> open book covering a library gnome
>> a lantern to illuminate and enlighten
>> critters: a green humpback turtle and a toad
Next, Elizabeth spied a stack of container drawers and selected a 15”x 10”x 5” library card catalog drawer with a liner—perfect!
“I love gardening and love plants, especially in the spring and this reminiscing experience is an opportunity to take gardening one step further. It’s kind of like a little playhouse; so whimsical, fantastical, colorful; it just adds joy,” Elizabeth smiled. “I was all over the place in selecting my garden critters until I saw this little fellow covered up in a book. When I saw him, I knew I wanted to create a natural live plant wisdom garden. Maybe I will put a wisdom quote of the month in it. It will be a fun conversation piece.”
Freda admits she has a wonderful job as part of the ACE Garden team for 17 years. “It’s cool; I love it. I’m an old fogy around here and it’s fun.” ACE Garden Center Owner Dawn Hart and Freda are continuously on the hunt for creative supplies. Freda: “This is a natural way to express yourself and get in touch with your creative side, while digging in the dirt. Miniature gardens are an escape into a fantasy world, while staying grounded in gardening.” Dawn: “Miniature Gardening is great, and we are happy to help make suggestions on what might be needed. With so many areas to explore, I’ve seen birdbaths, pots, aluminum cans, wagons, and how especially, they can be enjoyed with children.”
Freda shared her expertise as she guided Elizabeth through a four-step process. Let’s plant and populate Elizabeth’s wisdom garden:
1) Rocks in the bottom for drainage (any rocks or shells) bark, broken pots, charcoal, mulch—anything you want, but rocks will keep the garden stable.
• Add the dirt. Potting soil is best for regular plants. About 2-3 inches covered Elizabeth’s garden as she added a little more dirt raising her garden scene up a little more.
2) Next, Elizabeth went looking around the garden center for live little plants—what fun! A miniature fern, little variegated peperomia, and a mini wandering Jew plant would work nicely with Freda’s water feature idea—the pond. The fern became Elizabeth’s tree of knowledge.
3) Elizabeth’s layout included a walking path of natural white sand, which led from the pond to the thinking chair, igniting her imagination even more.
• The turtle needed a special spot by the pond. Freda used her fingers to etch the shape, leaving space for the nearby mini-fern and 3 to 4 small river rocks, which created a symmetrical viewing platform for her book fellow. Dug-out excess soil was replaced with bright blue gravel, representing water.
• Elizabeth massaged each little plant’s roots before planting. The variegated peperomia became the center focus. We all admired how her garden was beginning to take its final form. Elizabeth’s creative spark helped her to place a little more gravel under her critters, strategically placing them and the wandering Jew plant set to cascade over the garden’s edge.
4) All was set in place before tapping in pieces of designer green grassy moss around the garden floor. Freda likes to break the moss up and set it in as a last step. Elizabeth, totally now in landscape design “heaven,” finished mossing while adding a little gravel fill-in.
Now Elizabeth’s wisdom garden has a story to share and tell. And over the months and years, she can add her own charms and tokens. Oops—one more step:
5) Misting time: A spray bottle for misting is a necessity. Freda instructed Elizabeth to mist a few seconds and, “Then leave it alone! Get right close to it and spritz each plant three times every two to three days. That’s all you need.”
Final Creative Musings:
Eliz beamed, “I created something! Anytime you do something new, there's fear you might not get it right. But this is cool with no right or wrong. I’m leaving with this beautiful creation, my garden of wisdom. It reflects who I am—something I’ve been on a roll about—to surround myself with things that are totally me, and this garden is a representation of that.”
ACE Garden Center; 2807 Demere Road, St. Simons Island, GA.
Open six days 8:30 – 5:30 pm and Sunday afternoons. 912.634-0523.
See Freda, Erica or Dawn, and tell them Elizabeth sent you!