How to Create Indoor Gardens

Bottle gardens

Bottle gardens are an interesting variant on the terrarium and as long as the plants inside have the right soil and moisture content, with suffi­cient overhead light, they are foolproof.

Almost any type of bottle can be used pro­vided the glass is clear. Dark brown glass is not suitable. The range includes sweet jars, magnum champagne bottles, cider jars, che­mist’s bottles and carboys. The last two, being larger, give plenty of scope and when fitted with a lamp holder and shade (instead of a cork or stopper) make excellent hall lamps. The light (a 60 watt lamp) should be on 6-7 hours daily for best effects. The gardens inside remain attractive – without need for watering – about three years, when the growth of some plants will have become too rampant. They should then be emptied, washed out and replanted.

indoor bottle garden

The Tools

Since one cannot normally get a hand inside a carboy, special planting tools are required. These can be made at home. Lash a dessert­spoon firmly to a bamboo cane of sufficient length to extend 15-23cm/6-9in above the neck of the bottle. Prepare another using a dinner fork and a third having one end firmly wedged into the hole running through an empty spool of thread.

Other requirements are some good potting mixture such as loam/sand/peat in equal quan­tities, plus a little crushed charcoal, some small pieces of moss or bark (for ornamental effect

but not obligatory), a small watering can or a length of narrow plastic tubing and a number of small rooted plants.


Make sure the carboy is clean and dry and then, using a funnel, pour enough dryish soil through the opening to come a third of the way up the carboy.

Next, using the cane as a handle, tamp the mixture firm and even with the thread spool.

Small rooted plants, washed free of soil, may then be dropped inside and planted with the aid of the spoon and fork. Firm round the roots with the spoon. Pieces of bark or moss may be added to enhance the general effect. Add a little water, from a can or via a piece of rubber tubing so that it trickles down the sides but slowly so that the soil does not splash up on to the sides of the bottle. This moistens the soil and cleans the glass at the same time. Stopper the jar and leave until next day.

The following morning will probably find the carboy misted over inside, so remove the stopper but replace it when the glass has cleared. It will probably be necessary to repeat the procedure for several days, but eventually the stopper can be left in place permanently. Temperature changes early morning and even­ing may cause temporary misting but if this persists less than an hour it can be ignored.

Stand the carboy in a light sunless position -sun mists the glass immediately – such as a north window; or else treat it as a lamp stan­dard for use in a less favourable position.

Other Containers

Sweet jars made of glass can be planted and used in an upright position but look more

attractive when laid on their sides. This also allows greater scope for planting although the choice of material is naturally narrowed. Any­thing more than 8-10cm/3-4in high is too tall. A glass goldfish bowl or a bell jar- like those used by gardeners for raising small quantities of cuttings – can be inverted over a dish garden. Or the goldfish bowl could hold an African violet when used the right way up. Either way attractive table pieces can be made with such containers with the plants inside well protected from draughts.

The Plants

Plants most likely to succeed within the con­fines of a stoppered bottle are those found naturally in moist or shady situations. There are more of these than is generally realized, including the seaweed-like selaginellas (which soon perish in dry air), mosses, baby ferns, small-leaved ivies, the trailing Pellionia pulchra which has round silvery leaves with green vein markings, tradescantias (as long as these are kept in check), the gold-speckled Dracaena godseffiana or a small red-foliaged variety of dracaena for a central position, the squat San-sevieria hahnii and any of the handsomely leaf-patterned fittonias.

Such low growing bromeliads as Cryptan-thus, bivittatus minor or C. fosterianus make useful front row plants, forming flat rosettes of crinkly, variously striated and patterned leaves.

Few flowering plants, however, are likely to succeed, although African violets may con­tinue in bloom for a time and most peperomias will produce their not very spectacular mouse-tail, brown spikes.

Terrariums and vivariums

Terrariums and vivariums

In 1829, Nathaniel Ward, a London physician, accidentally discovered that plants could be suc­cessfully grown in a closed glass case. Water evaporated from the leaves during transpira­tion, condensed on the glass and trickled down its sides to be reabsorbed by the roots. It was his belief that mosses and ferns so imprisoned might exist for a century without extra watering.

The idea was soon developed by Victorian gardeners. Wardian cases became the ‘in’ thing and were produced in various shapes and sizes – often large and extremely elaborate. Some­times they were built onto the house, usually on the north side with a communicating win­dow ‘peep-through’, and had heating and elaborate rock work containing pockets to take ferns and similar plants. Simple, sealed box­like glass cases were also extensively used by plant collectors for the transportation offender specimens.

The principle is highly suitable for the grow­ing of ferns, mosses, selaginellas and similar plants requiring a humid atmosphere and moist growing conditions. The size of the container is immaterial as long as it is transparent, al­though obviously more interesting effects can be obtained in the larger sizes.

It is also possible to use closed glass cases for plants which have to be kept dry for most or part of the year, such as cacti and succulents, and the naturalist may like to introduce a few small lizards and other reptiles which like dry conditions. Be sure to safeguard these against escape, however, with a perforated lid or top on the vivarium.

Their Place in the Home

Elaborate effects can be created in homes and offices by installing large plant cases as perma­nent fixtures. These should have sliding glass doors in front and if provided with heat and lighting they will even succeed in dark recesses or corridors. They can also be fixed above TV sets (heat from the latter seems to benefit plants) or made into free-standing pedestal containers. It is also possible to purchase ready-made port­able frames of clear plastic, light to handle and with adjustable side vents. These may be round, square or oblong and are ideal for broad win­dow sills or tables. Some are of sufficient height to take quite tall flowering plants.

On a simpler scale old aquaria can be used as containers, or inverted bell jars, a brandy snifter for tiny specimens, the glass top of an old gas street lamp, an open goldfish bowl, bottles or indeed practically any transparent container.


Terrariums can be planted up in a variety of ways. A ‘dry wall’ at the back of an aquarium or similar oblong container, for example, makes a pleasing background for African vio­lets (Saintpaulia). Use flat pieces of stone, set­ting these in lines one above another – like courses of bricks – with an inch of soil mixture between each layer. A plant (turned from its pot) should be inserted sideways here and there between the stones – so that it faces front – as the work proceeds, and to ensure stability let each stone tip very slightly towards the back of the container. Keep the front of the tank clear, except for a layer of sand or granite chip-pings, with perhaps one African violet or a small fern to break its flatness.

Houseplants with different shaped leaves and textures and variously coloured can be planted in a peat/sand/loam mixture (equal parts) to suggest a jungle effect. Keep the tallest speci­mens towards the back and very small ones in the foreground. Here again, open spaces should be left to suggest forest glades. Suitable plants for such compositions are calatheas, the aquatic grasslike Acorns gramineus pusillus (sweet flag) with stiff green and white leaves

(8cm/3in) and the slightly taller, but also grasslike, Carex morrowii, tiny red-leaved dracaenas, Helxine soleirolii, selaginella and small ferns.

Flowering Plants

The taller clear plastic containers can be used to accommodate larger house plants like Ficus lyrata, Begonia rex, codiaeums, and similar leafy subjects, with flowering plants like azaleas, primulas and solanums in season. These can be kept in pots, plunged in peat or hidden by rocks and mixture. Protected from draughts and sudden chills they grow luxuriantly, need­ing only careful watering, the removal of old leaves and occasional feeding with water sol­uble fertilizer pills or liquid fertilizer.

Cactus Gardens

Cactus gardens look best against a background of blue sky and desert, so cut a picture out of a book or paint such a scene and stick it along the back of an aquarium. Put a generous layer of sand over the bottom with a few pieces of rock and plant small desert cacti, turned from their pots, in the sand. Cacti gardens require a fair amount of water during the growing season but little or none in winter.

Hanging Bottles

This is a method which can be adopted for growing plants of a semi-woody nature like dwarf fuchsias, pelargoniums, plectranthus, coleus and heliotrope in confined areas. As the plants are hanging they do not take valuable sill space. It is also suitable for growing mint, thyme and sage in a kitchen window.

The best bottles for the purpose are those which have held wine and have thick rims and inward-pointed domed bases. Start by making a hole about 2.5cm/lin across with a diamond or similar instrument in the centre of the dome. Thread a stout piece of wire right through the bottle and hook one end securely over the base. There should be sufficient wire left to run through to the top and be twisted into a curved handle for hanging – like a coat hanger.

Turn the bottle upside-down and half fill it with peat, sand and sifted loam in equal pro­portions. Wedge two or three rooted cuttings into the base opening and then turn the bottle the right way up so that the soil drops and anchors the plants. Water through the neck opening and hang the bottle in a light window. Although the plants hang down at first they soon turn and start to grow upwards. In a few months the bottle will be completely masked.

Parsley and Herb Pots

Parsley is a herb continually in demand and since it is not always possible to purchase fresh supplies, those without gardens should grow some in their kitchens.

The odd plant can be kept in a flower pot, but for larger quantities a more interesting method is to install a parsley pot. These are made of terracotta and shaped like a chimney, with a solid base and lots of 1.25cm/Jin holes all round the sides. They arrive with a large saucer which is kept with a little water in the bottom, which saves trouble.

The seed is sown in a seed tray or pan of soil mixture and when the seedlings are large enough to handle they are carefully trans­planted. Fill the parsley pot with a good pot­ting mixture or use equal parts of coarse sand, peat and sifted loam and gently insert a plantlet through each hole plus three or four in the top. Stand in a light place. Water regularly (via the saucer) and the plants grow rapidly.

Another method is to plant the seedlings in tower pots – the kind sold for strawberries and houseplants. These come in 23cm/9in sections with two lipped openings about 5cm/2in across and are made of white or black plastic. Fill them with soil and fit one inside another to a convenient height, twisting them round so that one set of lipped openings alternates with those of the section above. They take up very little space but hold a surprising number of parsley plants. Alternatively grow a different kind of herb in each opening, except mint which is too rampant and will soon swamp all others. Small mixed herb gardens can also be made up in old casserole or vegetable dishes and kept on a windowsill for ornament and picking. In light basement wells, strawberry jars – which are like parsley pots but with fewer and larger holes – are suitable for mixed herbs.

Hyacinths on Newspaper

Hyacinths grown on newspaper are invariably successful for the paper does not readily dry out and is easy for roots to penetrate. The papers should be soaked and then squeezed to remove surplus water, after which the pulp should be broken up into small pieces, about the size of a walnut.

Half fill a bulb bowl with these, plus a few pieces of lump charcoal and stand the bulbs closely on top without touching. Work more paper pieces between them until only the noses of the bulbs show. The paper must not be pressed down hard or it will form a hard layer like papier mache which the roots cannot penetrate.

Wrap the bowls in black polyethylene or plastic and keep them in a cool place (about 4.4°C/40°F) for nine weeks. Then take them








indoor gardening cases


out, topdress the paper with moist peat, sow some grass seed on top and place them in a light but cool place (10°C/50°F) until the leaves are well out of the bulbs and the flower buds show. They can then go into warmer rooms to flower.

Gardens on Bricks

Builder’s bricks with holes through them (for taking cables etc.) make suitable containers for houseleeks (sempervivums) and sedums. Stand them on a flat surface, fill the holes with a suit-

able soil mixture, insert a plant in each hole and water by spraying over the foliage as required.

Indoor Standards

With a little patience and by constantly nip­ping out unwanted shoots, attractive little evergreen standards can be grown in large pots. Such plants as rosemary and santolina as well as bay (Laurus nobilis) and box react well to cutting and can be trained to globes, pyramids and spirals by careful nipping.

indoor desert garden


Miniature indoor gardens

Collecting small objects appeals to many people – things like tiny animals, car models, dolls’ house furniture or, for gardeners, lilli-putian plants and miniature gardens. The latter have special appeal because they are alive and consequently always changing.

Few containers are too small to accommo­date at least one or two plants and I have seen charming compositions in teacups and brandy snifters. Greater variety and more artistic effects, however, require something larger, such as a vegetable dish or an old sink.


The first miniature garden made in a sink was exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1923. It caused a sensation and suddenly everybody contracted sink mania. In the Twenties, thousands of natural stone sinks were broken up and discarded in favour of the then fashion­able yellow glaze or deep white butler’s sinks. Builders at that time were only too glad to give away objects which are now scarce and valuable. It is, however, possible to make something similar of concrete; or, as the yellow and white types are now being ousted in their turn by stainless steel or moulded units, maybe pick up one of these for a song.

To give them a more attractive appearance, the outsides of the sinks should be camou­flaged so that they look old and matured. This is the method.

Paint the sides, tops and 2.5cm/lin down inside with strong industrial glue. Allow this to dry to a tacky consistency, which should take about 20 minutes. Meantime, mix to­gether equal parts of coarse builder’s sand, peat and cement and then add a little water so that the mixture is just moist. If it is too wet it will seep down without adhering to the sides.

Spread this mixture thinly all over the gummed areas, starting at the bottom and working upwards, also overlapping the top and 2.5cm/lin down inside. If the layer is too thick it will slip down from the sink. Knead it to leave a rugged appearance.

When the material has set, paint it over with cow-manure and water, or sour milk, or a seaweed fertilizer to encourage moss and algae to grow and thus give it a mature appearance.

Any spare mixture can be moulded into small artificial rocks, making holes here and there in these with the thumb to take such plants as house-leeks (sempervivums) and sedums.



Heavy containers like sinks and troughs should be stood on a firm base, either at ground level or raised on piers of brick or stone. Keep them in a light place such as a window or glass roofed extension. The plug hole at the base is an in­surance against overwatering but not essential indoors if care is taken. If you decide to leave it, cover the hole with wire mesh and stones or crocks and let the sink tilt very slightly towards this outlet. A plant pot or dish stood under­neath will catch any drips.

Smaller containers fashioned from wood, terracotta, porcelain, glassfibre and the like can be stood on windowsills, small tables or special plant stands – always in a good light or where artificial illumination can be provided.


Start by covering the base of the container with 1.25-2cm/^-Jin of drainage material, such as broken crocks or pebbles. Over this spread some sort of roughage, e.g. dry leaves, rough peat, skimmings of old turf and similar debris. Its purpose is to form a barrier between the mixture above and the drainage crocks below.

Naturally, soil composition varies according to the type of plants grown, but for general purposes a good mix can be made using the following ingredients: 1 part by bulk good quality sifted loam; 1 part by bulk silver sand; 1 part by bulk decayed leaf soil (oak or beech for preference) or moist peat; 1 part by bulk gritty material like small granite chippings or crushed brick.

The last ingredient keeps the soil open and assists drainage. When thoroughly mixed the mixture should feel springy and be just moist.

A porous mixture well supplied with humus is suitable for many plants including lime lovers but those which prefer acid conditions like i

miniature bottle garden

Plant each specimen firmly, preferably from pots so that there is little root disturbance. Some will go in sideways between rocks – like sempervivums or the mauve-flowered Ram-onda x regis-ferdinandi (syn. R. myconii). Others, such as aubrieta and alpine phlox, can be planted near the edges of the sink so that the flowers trail over its sides. When all is complete water gently and sprinkle granite chippings on the bare soil between limestone rocks or use tiny pebbles amongst sandstone rocks. Besides giving the sink a finishing touch, stones keep the soil cool, inhibit weeds and lessen moisture losses.

Formal Gardens

Formal gardens in miniature can be copies of larger ones outdoors. A good craftsman can copy almost any feature, making paths, fences, fountains, furniture and the like to make them more realistic. Rose gardens are particularly popular with flagged paths, sundials, pergolas and summerhouses, and there are real minia­ture roses available from growers, both as bush and standard types. Another idea is to make a water garden complete with tiny pool (a glass salt cellar will do or it can be moulded from concrete) surrounded by grass and flowers and even a cottage at one end. There are no water-


heathers, pernettyias, gentians and dwarf rhododendrons need two parts of peat (instead of one) in the general mixture. Succulents, on the other hand, require two parts sand and one part broken lump charcoal added to the basic mixture.

Fill the sink with the mixture to within 2.5cm/lin below the rim, inserting pieces of rock as the work proceeds. Some rocks may extend well above the height of the container with soil packed between to provide extra depth and more planting areas. Informal gardens should be left at different levels, to suggest a range of mountain peaks. Rocks with stratification lines should be laid correctly, flat or nearly so as in nature.

Informal Gardens

A dwarf conifer should set the scale for an informal miniature garden and, generally speaking, will be the tallest plant it contains. Real pygmies are the aim, not small specimens of what will become large shrubs in a few years time. Similarly with the plants – they must be naturally miniature, not tiny sprigs of fairly large alpines.

bonsoa garden

lilies small enough for the pool but the little white-flowered frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) or a scrap of floating Fairy Moss (Azolla) make good substitutes.

Grass sown in the normal way will soon germinate in a sink garden and can be kept short with scissors. Clever fingers can make archways, well heads, steps and fences (matches can act as palings). Plan the garden on one or several levels or it can be given over entirely to one kind of plant, such as gentians or semper-vivums.

Aftercare All miniature gardens need care­ful watering and they should be regularly weeded. Cut back excessive growth, particu­larly on trailing plants, also dead flowers and leaves. Occasional feeding is beneficial in summer, using a mild proprietary fertilizer.


The general principles of making and planting these are similiar to those of sink gardens except that those destined to stand on polished surfaces should not be made of porous material or have drainage holes unless stood on a drip tray.

All kinds of containers are permissable -porcelain bowls, baking tins, bulb bowls, vegetable or meat dishes, basins, alpine pans, even a large flower pot cut in half lengthwise could be used.

The plants used must be miniatures yet even so will probably outgrow the container in a few years. When they seem overcrowded empty the bowl, break them up and start again.

Aftercare Miniature gardens need good light at all times and careful watering. If you overdo the last, turn the container on its side for a time to allow surplus moisture to drain away. In summer the gardens benefit from a sojurn outdoors or should be sprayed over frequently with soft water at room tempera­ture. Most require cool growing conditions with temperatures between 4-15°C/40-60°F.

oil and pots for bonsai


Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Caespitose’ makes a rounded bun-shaped bush, with its light green foliage sprays arranged in seashell-shapes. It is one of the smallest conifers known and always miniature. Others in this group are Co. ‘Flabelliformis’, also globular and extremely slow growing and green; Co. ‘Intermedia’ has loose sprays but is similar; Co. ‘Minima’ with tightly packed, moss-like sprays is con­sidered to be the smallest conifer of its kind (8cm/3in at 10 years); and Co. ‘Snow’ has blue-grey foliage tipped with white and is bun-shaped. Most of these only grow to about 25cm/10in in 10 years.

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Handai-sugi’ has a compact habit, becoming lighter and more spreading with age. Clusters of pendulous leafy branches and leaves which are pale green in spring but bronzy-red in winter. Height 25cm/lOin.

Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’ is a de­lightful little juniper with upright, blue-grey columns of evergreen foliage, growing barely 2.5cm/1 in a year. This is an excellent kind to start with as it gives a semblance of height. Height 25cm/lOin.

J. sabina ‘Arcadia’ is a prostrate growing juniper useful for drooping over the side of a sink. It is very slow growing and grey-green in colour.

Picea glauca ‘Albertiana Conica’ is a popular spruce with short, closely set branches covered with grass green leaves. In spring the tips of the branches are fringed with the soft gold of the new growth. It will eventually outgrow the sink but can be kept for several years and then be potted or put out in the garden.

Thuja orientalis ‘Rosedalis’ grows erect with fine, soft to the touch foliage which is soft yellow when young, passing to pale green and plum-purple as the summer advances. Height 25cm/10in after several years.

Sprouting acorns, beech seedlings and horse chestnuts remain small enough to be retained for several years.


Most small bulbs are suitable for miniature gardens provided they are grown cool. They soon fade in a hot atmosphere. Chionodoxas, miniature narcissi, particularly the elfin N. asturiensis which only grows about 5cm/2in high, and the slightly larger hoop-petticoat daffodil N. bulbocodium are delightful. Snow­drops, scillas, grape hyacinths (muscari) and dwarf cyclamen are others to try, and for autumn Sternbergia lutea (which looks like a

large yellow crocus), Cyclamen neapolitanum and the September and October flowering mauve Crocus speciosus are lovely. One of the longest in bloom is Rhodohypoxis baurii, with grassy leaves and wide, pink, rose or white flowers on 5cm/2in stems.


Few flowering shrubs are true miniatures so the choice is fairly limited. Roses are an exception. The species rose, Rosa chinensis has countless varieties including ‘Minima’ (syn. Roulettii), a real dwarf at 10-13cm/4-5in. Even the most robust only grow around 30cm/12in tall. Colours vary from pink, rose, crimson, scarlet, white and yellow and the flowers may be single or double. Among the most interest­ing are ‘Elf, 10cm/4in dark crimson and single; ‘Pixie’, 10-13cm/4-5in double pale pink; ‘Oakington Ruby’, 23-25cm/9-10in double crimson and ‘Josephine Wheatcroft’, 25cm/ lOin golden-yellow. Miniature roses need little pruning except for removal of dead flowers, damaged or weak branches and the shortening back of unduly long shoots.

Cassiope lycopodiodes is a small heath-like shrubby lime-hater with minute leaves and pendant white, lily-of-the-valley-like flowers on 8cm/3in stems; Alyssum spinosum, 15cm/ 6in high and prickly has silvery leaves and white flowers; Salix repens is a dwarf willow; and Corokia cotoneaster has fragrant, star-like yellow flowers and twiggy contorted shoots with small green leaves, silver underneath.

Other Plants

Here there is more choice to select plants which will extend the flowering season.

Trailers include the spring blooming au-brietas in various shades of blue, mauve, purple and red, also one with variegated foliage; alpine phlox (Phlox subulata) which has pink, red, white or mauve flowers; golden Alyssum saxatile; the pink-flowered soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides); Arabis caucasica (syn. A. albida) ‘Flore Pleno’ with double white flowers like miniature stocks; and rock roses (Heli-anthemum nummularium) with white, pink, rose, red, orange, yellow and bronze single or double flowers. All these need hard cutting back after flowering to keep them in bounds and healthy.

For summer flowering in sunny positions few plants surpass the bitterroots (Lewisia hybrids). The large and spectacular single flowers are in 15cm/6in umbels and may be cream, apricot, pink or red, often with con­trasting stripes of other colours. The oblong leaves are arranged in rosettes. Some of the smaller pinks (dianthus) like ‘Mars’ and ‘Little Jock’ are also suitable and Erinus alpinus, which has 8-10cm/3-4in spikes of mauve or white flowers. There are also dwarf campan­ulas like C. carpatica with blue or white flowers; Thymus serpyllum, another carpeter is evergreen with pungent-smelling leaves and white, rose or red flowers and there are countless sedums, sempervivums and saxifrages – particularly the Kabschia group.

Others to note are Oxalis enneaphylla and O. adenophylla, both about 8cm/3in high with pink flowers and shamrock leaves; Raoulia australis (syn. R. Hookeri), a creeping plant with tiny silver leaves and white flowers; Mentha requienii, tiny mauve flowers and leaves with a strong smell of peppermint; a small blue iris called J. cristata, 5cm/2in tall and the miniature (5cm/2in) thrift – Armeria caespitosa. with pink flowers.


best plants for indoor gardens

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