Miniature Landscaping: Great Gardens Come In Small Packages

Miniature Landscape Potted Tree
bonsai plant
(Image credit: Michael Coghlan)

Miniature landscapes are an assemblage of plants, soil, and imagination all rolled up into one creative tiny scene. You can create them as interesting focal points in the garden, or you can create them for use in the home or office. You can create them using only containers, or you can place your miniature gardens directly into the landscape.

Types of Miniature Gardens

There are all sorts of miniature landscapes, each one being unique to the individual gardener. The hardest part in creating a miniature landscape is figuring out the type of garden you want to build.

  • Create a miniature Japanese Zen garden with fine sand, miniature Japanese bridges, and bonsai trees.
  • Create a formal garden filled with tiny moss pathways, fountains, and miniature sculptural urns.
  • Create a country garden filled with tiny birdhouses, terracotta pots, and twig furniture.
  • Create a succulent desktop garden or a terrarium garden.

How to Create a Miniature Landscape

If you want to create one with containers, you should first get a pot that you personally love and then create your miniature landscape around it.

  • Create a miniature landscape with containerized dwarf conifers, trailing ivy, and a variety of perennials or annuals planted around their bases. Place the conifers in containers at least 3 inches (8 cm.) larger than the original pots from where you acquire them.
  • Create a miniature landscape in an old wheelbarrow. Make sure you add some drainage holes. Fill it with soil and add some dwarf plantings. For additional interest, add some tiny objects that fit the theme of your miniature landscape setting. Place it in a sunny spot in the garden or on the patio for all to enjoy.
  • Use an old plastic baby bath, washtub, or other large container to create a lovely miniature pond landscape. Put it in a sunny location. Place rocks or stones in the bottom and build them up to one side to encourage wildlife to visit, especially frogs. Fill the pond with water, allowing a few days for the water to settle before adding any of the pond life, such as fish or tadpoles. Mimic the look of a real pond by adding a mix of low-growing water plants and a lily pad or two. Position the plants in the sand around your miniature pond.
  • With a little creativity, you can design a wonderful, low-maintenance desktop succulent garden. Use a shallow container, about 2 inches (5 cm.) deep. Choose from an array of succulent plants, mimicking the look of an arid desert. You can buy a cacti mixture, or you can mix your own using half sand, half potting soil. Arrange your plants and add rocks to help anchor them in place. Add some decorative objects, if desired, such as wooden fencing. Keep your miniature garden in a sunny location, like a windowsill or a desk.

Miniature Landscaping Plants

With the use of small annuals and dwarf or low-growing varieties of plants, you can create a tiny, realistic landscape. Depending on your chosen design, use plants no more than 2 to 3 feet (61-91 cm.) tall. Numerous rock garden plants are suitable. Annuals to consider include:

Low-growing varieties of trees and shrubs that are commonly used include:

The cone and round shapes of dwarf evergreens provide structure and winter interest. Perennials and groundcovers are important elements in this type of garden. Use small-leaved sedum to imitate shrubs. Moss and short perennial grasses are good choices for mimicking grass. Other low-growing perennials can offer interesting foliage and color.

Additional Tips for Creating Miniature Landscapes

Carefully plan your miniature landscape beforehand, keeping everything within scale. Decide what plants are best suited for your theme. When planning your miniature landscape, consider if it will be viewed from all sides or just one. For instance, if viewed from all sides, the focal point should be placed in the center, with lower plantings around it. If your miniature landscape will be viewed from only one side, the tallest plant or structure should be placed near the back, with lower plants in the foreground. Other than just plants, try using something, such as a rock or stick, as a focal point in the miniature landscape to simulate boulders or logs. Before you do any planting, take your time and make certain that the arrangement of your plants creates the desired effect. In other words, play around with your idea. Adjust soil levels to create hills and valleys. Move your logs and boulders to different locations within the landscape. Step back and see if your arrangement creates the desired effect. If not, do a little more rearranging and check it again. When you decide that you have created the right scene, you are ready to do your planting. No special tools are needed for your miniature landscape, with exception to small kitchen utensils like a spoon as your shovel, a fork as your rake, and small scissors as your shears. Try sticking with natural materials when constructing your miniature landscape. For instance, create mountains made of dirt, rivers made of water, rocks made of stone, etc. For objects in the miniature landscape, look to hobby shops for ideas. Items for dollhouses and railroads offer an array of choices, from small garden statuary, fountains, fencing, and buildings galore. If you are incorporating any houses or other miniature buildings into your scene, keep them weather-resistant by adding a coat of polyurethane. There are so many different ways to construct miniature landscapes; therefore, it's entirely up to you. Whether you place them indoors or out, whether you use containers or not, the most important thing to remember when creating a miniature landscape is to simply have fun.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.