A Mugo Pine that was planted a year an a half ago with Sedum cuttings for a full-sun miniature garden. The anchor point is the Mugo Pine, the focal point is the Cherub Birdbath.

This is a continuation of my Beginner Miniature Garden Series. Here are the previous lessons, just in case you missed them:

 Miniature Gardening 101: The Dirt

Miniature Gardening 102: Indoor vs. Outdoor Plants

Miniature Gardening 103: The Water

Miniature Gardening 104: How to Find the Right Plants

Miniature Gardening 105: Miniature Garden Design Using Scales

So for this lesson, I’ve used an edited-excerpt of the chapter 3 ‘Scaled Design Basics’ from the book that has become the primer for the hobby, Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World, by Yours Truly, published by Timber Press, the world’s top publisher of garden books:

In this medium sized/half-inch scale garden, the focal point is the bench, the anchor point is the tree to the right of it.

“Miniature gardening, like any hobby or craft, can be enjoyed at many levels, but the craftsmanship and thought that goes into your creation is what makes it truly captivating. Sure, you can throw any small plant into a pot, add a toy chair, and call it done. Or, you can spend a little time and create a delightful garden that looks like a slice taken out of your full-sized garden, shrunk to miniature size.”

The reason I’m using this chapter in my book for this lesson, is that I go into much-better detail on every aspect of shrinking the garden rules down to miniature, complete with photos showing the different elements to pay attention to. Here’s a run-down of what’s in the chapter, followed by a summary of the garden rules:

  • You will learn about the various scales that can be used with success for whatever size miniature scene you are creating.
  • You will also learn full-sized garden rules and how to resize them.
  • There is some adjustment to the thinking behind the shrinking, but it is more satisfying to create with the rules than without them.
  • The same full-sized garden design principles apply, too: anchor points, layers, balance, form, texture, color, and focal point—they are just sized down to miniature.

The Basic Garden Rules

Anchor points – Usually the biggest element in the garden and a starting point to work from. This can be a tree, a shed, a fountain or your deck.

Layers – Layers are a big part of a professional garden design that start with the tallest plant, usually a tree and, using the heights of the different plants, layering down from there to create a wall of green goodness. Akin to a backdrop.

Balance – Balance is very important in miniature because the garden is usually viewed all at once. A lop-sided design leaves the viewer wanting something more. Balance the overall design of the mini garden instead of the individual plantings (like you would do in full-size.)

Form – A fun part of designing any size of garden is thinking about the forms, or over-all shapes, of the plants. Think about the silhouettes of your trees and shrubs as you are designing. You don’t want all the same-shaped plants in one scene, (unless it’s very deliberate in a post-modern designed garden that is!)

Case Study: From the archives by a gardener in Vancouver, BC. You can see how the succulents are not realistic miniature garden plants – and the scale of the miniature garden is lost. The big succulents simply don’t look like anything that we would see in a full-sized garden. The focal point is the bench but having the statue behind it distracts from it – but there is no other place to put it so I would have left it out. It’s not what you CAN put in the miniature garden, it’s a LOT about what you don’t put in it too.

Texture – When you use all small-leafed plants in your design, the viewer can’t discern where one plant ends and the next one starts, and it becomes one big mass of leaves. By mixing-up the textures of large and small leaves, needle-foliage and broadleaves, with grassy plants and taller trees, THIS is where the garden really starts to look like it’s literally shrunken-down from a full-sized garden.

Color – One of the often over-looked garden design rules is to design with the foliage first. Flowers are fleeting so once they are gone (which, for a lot of plants, is for most of the year,) you’re left with the leaves, stems, trunks and branches. Mix up your green colors by contrasting and playing with the colors of the plant, and try to ignore designing with those lovely little blooms, however pretty they may be!

Focal Points – This is the fountain, sculpture or bench at the end of your path. It’s what the eye is drawn to first, and it’s usually the theme of the miniature garden.

I hope this helps get you started in building your own little piece of real estate.

Stay tuned next for a lesson on containers – what to use and what not to use.

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