Want to create a miniature garden with living plants? This guide by expert Janit Calvo has all the information and resources you need to get started. Find out about the best plant choices, where to get them, and how to plan your garden and accessories for a creative and enchanting living work of art.
Janit is the best-selling author of Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World. We’re giving away 2 copies so be sure to enter to win (below).
Related: there are more fairy and miniature garden projects here.
This resource guide walks you through the basics of miniature gardens including the best indoor and outdoor plant choices, and as well as sources for purchasing them.
Scroll down for the answers to beginner’s frequently asked questions about getting started with miniature gardens.
Mini Garden Basics
Miniature Garden vs Fairy Garden – What’s the Difference?
- A miniature garden is literally a living garden in miniature. The focus is on creating and growing the garden on a small scale. Miniature and dwarf trees and shrubs are paired with small-leafed perennials and groundcovers that make up the understory of the garden bed. At least one “man-made” miniature garden accessory is needed to tell the scale to the viewer, like a birdbath or bench.
- Fairy gardens are not as rigid in design and scale and the focus is usually on the accessories and the fairies, and the plants are decided upon afterwards if at all.
For fairy garden resources, see Easy DIY Fairy Garden Decor.
It’s very helpful to know the difference when shopping for plants and accessories. Attention to scale (proportions) is essential for a miniature garden to look just right.
Keys to Planting and Growing a Miniature Garden Indoors
- Make it a real garden: Use small trees to add height to your miniature garden to mimic an outdoor garden. Use the shorter plants as bedding plants to create a lush understory by mixing up the textures of the plants. All the plants in your container should have the same light and water needs for the best success.
- Light: Grow bulbs are the same as full-spectrum or 5000K bulbs and are less expensive.
They come in a variety shapes to fit most lamps, including regular desk lamps.
- Air Temperature: Indoor plants are tropical plants that need the temperatures to stay above 60F / 15C all year round.
- Soil: Use organic potting soil with no added fertilizers or water-retaining polymers.
- Water: Your pot should have a drainage hole unless you understand perfectly how to water without one.
Get one with drainage hole and matching saucer, it’s just easier.
Use a good quality plant coaster underneath the saucer to protect your furniture.
About Scale in the Miniature Garden
- Pay attention to the scale of your miniature garden. It may seem daunting but as with anything worthwhile, it becomes pretty easy once you get your head around it.
- It is important to remember when you are starting that the size of the accessories dictates the scale, not the plants.
- Keep all the accessories the same scale so you don’t confuse the viewer. Just like a well-done dollhouse, it is the realism that will make the scene enchanting and magical.
Here’s a video that will help you to understand how the size of the accessory can drastically change the perceived size of the miniature garden.
Container Size Vs. Accessory Size Quick Chart
Here’s another helpful way to be certain your container, plants, and accessories work well together.
- For containers 10″ in diameter and larger, or for in-ground mini gardens, use the large sized accessories or 1″ scale.
- For smaller pots 10″ in diameter and under, use medium size or ½” scale.
- For tiny pots 2″ to 4″, use the small size or ¼” scale, HO or N scale.
Related: DIY Hobbit House for the Garden
Recommended Indoor Plants for Miniature Gardens
- When looking for trees that you can use indoors for your mini garden, look for plants that resemble full-sized trees.
- Note that you can trim off the bottom leaves of a plant to expose the trunk to make a shrub into a tree.
- You can use indoor bonsai trees in your miniature garden but use them as potted plants so you can maintain them easily.
Here’s my 10 favourites for indoors (you can buy many of them here):
1. English Boxwood – Buxus sempervirens*
2. False Cypress – Chamaecyparis lawsoniana*
3. Parlor Palm – Chamaedorea elegans
4. Norfolk Pine – Araucaria heterophylla
5. Ellwood’s Blue Cypress – Chamaecyparis lawsoniana*
Indoor Bedding Plants (you can buy many of them here):
- Match the bedding plant’s growing requirement with the tree that you use.
- For example, a favorite combination is an English Boxwood, Dwarf Mondo Grass and Baby Tears for a garden that will do well in bright, indirect light with regular watering.
6. Dwarf Mondo Grass – Ophiopogon japonica ‘Nana’**
7. Baby Tears – Soleirolia soleirolii**
8. Corsican Mint – Mentha requienii**
9. Sugar Vine – Parthenocissus striata (aka Cissus striata)
10. Zebra Haworthia – Haworthia fasciata
Recommended Outdoor Trees and Shrubs for Miniature Gardens
- Our favorite trees for gardening in miniature outdoor are dwarf and miniature conifers because they resemble the full-sized trees that we see in our landscape around our homes. (The terms dwarf and miniature refer to growth rate, not overall size.)
- Other types of trees are baby trees that have small leaves and grow slowly, like the Boxwood or Japanese Holly.
These are my top 10 favourites for outdoor miniature gardens (you can buy many of them here)::
1. Just Dandy Dwarf Hinoki Cypress – Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Just Dandy’
2. Jean’s Dilly Dwarf Spruce – Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’
3. Miniature Juniper – Juniperus communis ‘Miniature’
4. Dwarf Mugo Pine – Pinus mugo ‘Slowmound’
5. Sky Pencil Japanese Holly – Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’
Outdoor Miniature Garden Bedding Plants
- The ideal plants for the miniature garden bed are small-leaved and slow growing.
- Ground covers, sedums, rockery and alpine plants are general plant families that can be explored for more options for the mini gardening bed.
- Resist the urge to plant herbs, they will out-grow the miniature garden within one growing season.
6. Miniature Daisies – Bellium minuta
7. Platt’s Black Brass Buttons – Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’
8. Cranesbill – Erodium ‘Album’
9. Small Hens & Chicks – Semperviven tectorum
10. Irish Moss – Sagina sublata
Miniature Garden FAQ
1 How do I start?
How to start miniature gardening can often be overwhelming with all the choices and possibilities but the best place to begin is to decide where the miniature garden will live.
- Will it be planted in-ground or in a container?
- Where will that container be placed?
Then you can interpret the light requirements (full sun? shade?) and what soil is needed (potting soil for pots, organic garden soil for the garden bed) for that spot.
For mini gardens in pots, choose a nice container that you enjoy and perhaps will match your décor because some miniature garden plants can happily grow in a pot for over 10 years.
Once the placement is decided, you can research the plants that suit that spot to greatly narrow-down your search.
Choose taller plants for the back of the pot, shorter plants in front and at least one tree to make it a “real” garden.
Our Indoor/Outdoor Miniature Boxwood Kit will jump-start your learning curve and get you miniature gardening in one afternoon.
2 Where can I buy these plants?
For mail order:
- TwoGreenThumbs.com has been supplying America with miniature garden plants since 2004 and have developed the best methods in the country to ship live plants safely and securely anywhere in the lower 48 or Alaska.
- Here is our plant department sorted by light requirements or find plants sorted by zone.
To locate plants locally:
- Check with your local independent garden center using the plants listed here as an example.
- Caution: some garden centers may not know what a “good miniature garden plant” or a “fairy garden plant” is yet.
Other garden shops may sell you young plants that grow up too fast, or plants that simply don’t look right in the miniature garden. Be sure to use the lists here as a guideline.
Note that during the winter holiday months you can find young trees and plants for sale at your grocery store’s floral department or in some independent food stores, like Trader Joe’s.
3 Where can I find realistic accessories?
For realistic miniature garden accessories, please visit our store where we have been resourcing miniatures for years that can hold up to the weather and rain, and can be easily renewed and refreshed. See them sorted by scale here.
Find possibilities locally from dollhouse miniature stores but be careful to choose items that can withstand the weather and moisture. Other places to look are flea markets and thrift stores.
4 Can you tell me how to assemble a miniature garden once I have all my supplies?
5 Do you have any fairy garden resources?
Get the Book
Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World
Get ready to journey into the huge world of growing small!
The biggest garden niche in years combines the joy of gardening with the magic of miniatures.
Gardening in Miniature is a complete guide to creating lush, living, small-scale gardens. It has everything you need to pick up this new hobby, including scaled down garden designs, techniques for creating tiny hardscapes, miniature garden care and maintenance, tips on choosing containers, how to buy the right plants, and where to find life-like accessories. Inspiring step-by-step projects feature basic skills that can be recreated in any number of designs, like a tiny patio, a trellis, a pond, and a secret garden.
Whether you want to build a miniature empire in your garden bed or design a private garden with a pebble patio for an indoor centerpiece, Gardening in Miniature is the primer for creating your own tiny, living world.
Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center was created out of a need to find the right plants, parts and pieces that work the best for the new miniature garden hobby. Started in 2001, the business has grown-up slowly to become the source for everything miniature garden. The online-only business is run by a husband and wife team and based in Seattle.
Janit Calvo is an artist, miniaturist, gardener, and entrepreneur. Janit resides with her husband in a full-size house and garden in Seattle.
Inspired by her first miniature garden’s long life and easy maintenance, Janit started Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center in 2001.
She has won many garden and miniature show awards, and her gardens have appeared in magazines in Canada, Japan, Romania, The Netherlands and many US publications such as the Seattle Times, Birds and Bloom and Woman’s World.
Her bestselling bible for the hobby, Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World has now been translated into German, Turkish and Korean.
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