By Jesse Eastman
As plants begin the methodical process of shutting down for winter, color drains away from our world and we are left in a somewhat stark environment. If you’re anything like me, you still need a horticultural fix, and there’s only so much a houseplant can do to scratch that itch. The best cure I’ve found for the winter blues is miniature gardening. Whether succulent dishes, terrariums, bonsai, or fairy gardens, creating a miniature world is an incredible way to immerse yourself in a bit of green escapism and free yourself – however briefly – from the brown and gray outlook November brings.
Easily the most low-maintenance approach to miniature gardening is the succulent dish. Succulents are low-water, pest-resistant, and enjoy moderate to bright light. Designing a container with their wildly unique shapes, textures, and colors is more akin to playing with children’s building blocks than gardening. Nearly anything can be used as a container for succulents, as long as you consider the importance of drainage for these drought-loving plants (using cactus and succulent soil can help prevent wet feet). I’ve seen delightful succulent gardens in everything from beautiful ceramic dishes and sea shells to plastic dinosaurs and antique milk cans.
Terrariums are an elegant way to grow tender plants. In the exceptionally dry winter air we enjoy here in the Rocky Mountain region, a glass container can help maintain a humid environment around all sorts of moisture-loving plants, including but not limited to: bromeliads, air plants, orchids, ferns, and carnivorous plants. From your basic fish tank to a decorative blown glass bubble to an intricate glass octahedron, there are a multitude of options available depending on your personal style and the size of plants you want to grow. The proper layering of growing media, including soil, activated charcoal, gravel, and moss, ensures your plants will be happy in their self-contained bio-dome with minimal care.
Traditional bonsai is an ancient Japanese art form that uses trees to create miniaturized landscapes. By consistently manipulating dwarf varieties of certain trees and shrubs while accentuating their natural growth habits, we aim to capture the strength and permanence of nature in a more controlled environment. Bonsai are often viewed as a meditative or contemplative experience, both for the grower, who must patiently wait for the plant to grow into its potential, and for the viewer, who can imagine enjoy the beauty of majesty of each unique piece as they would view a classic painting or sculpture.
By far the most interactive of the various veins of miniature gardening, fairy gardening is a whimsical and fun activity for kids of all ages. Generally open air (as opposed to terrariums), these miniature gardens are filled with accessories such as walkways made from chips of broken pots, tiny little benches and tables, and even diminutive domiciles where one can imagine a fairy taking up residence. If bonsai is an exercise in patience, fairy gardens are a celebration of impermanence, as you find new fun arrangements to suit the needs of your fairies, remove overgrown plants, and introduce new accessories to their vibrant little world.
Originally published on October 31st, 2016. Updated on November 2nd, 2021.