Making a Dish Garden

A dish garden is a group of small house plants grown in a shallow container; unlike Wardian cases, a dish garden is left open to the air. The secret of success is to use plants that like similar light, temperature, watering, humidity and potting mixture and to give them the conditions they need. You can then get years of pleasure from your dish garden, and an attractive addition to any room.


Types of containers for dish gardens

Oddly enough, not all dishes are suitable, but many other types of containers are. Depth Choose a container about 7.5cm (3in) deep. Shallower containers have insufficent root space; deeper containers encourage the plants to grow too big. Shape Use round, square, rectangular or oval dishes. Those with upright sides are easier to plant up and move than ones with shallow, sloping sides.

Size This depends on how many plants you grow, but a 15-30cm (6-12in) wide dish is sensible. Tiny dishes may hold a plant, but you need at least three plants for a ‘garden-type’ display.

Material Use waterproof containers to protect furniture. Glazed china or pottery is more attractive than plastic. Line glass dishes with moss or gravel before filling, to hide the potting mixture. Line porous containers, such as wicker baskets, with polythene, to waterproof them.

Preparing the ground

Place a 15mm (½ in) drainage layer of coarse gravel and charcoal in the bottom of the dish. (Charcoal helps keep the potting mixture ‘sweet’.)

Cover with a layer of fine nylon mesh or coarse peat, so the potting mixture doesn’t clog the gravel, then add a layer of loam-based potting mixture. For a desert dish garden, add coarse grit or use cacti and succulent potting mixture. Leave a 15mm (1/2in) space between the potting compost and the rim.

If the dish garden is seen only from the front, you can mound the potting mixture towards the back, to create a hilly effect. For on all-round dish garden, a mound slightly off centre is attractive.

Planting a dish garden

Arrange the plants, still in their pots, and any features, such as stones or figurines. (For choice of plants, see over.) Unless you want a formal effect, place plants asymmetrically; a ‘tree’ on one side, with a clump of ‘bushes’ nearby, and trailing plants to hang over the rim.

Try to make the spaces between the plants interesting, as well as allowing room for growth. Don’t be afraid to rearrange the plants and features. When you’re satisfied, carefully remove the plants from their pots.image

Using a large spoon, dig holes and insert plants, so the top of the rootball is just below the surface of the potting mixture. Plant and then sprinkle potting mixture over the rootball, and firm gently. Water lightly, then place in a shady spot for a few days, so the plants can adapt.

The right care

  • Watering is the trickiest bit. If you have overwatered, carefully tilt the dish garden over a sink, to allow excess water to drain out. Use your flat, open hands to hold the plants in place, and remove any loose features first.
  • Mist spraying in hot weather keeps thin-leaved plants from drying out.
  • Feeding is a compromise between keeping the plants alive and keeping them small. Give half the suggested strength, in the growing season.
  • Pruning helps keep plants small and compact, but replace any that grow too big or leggy with new, young stock.
  • Regularly turning dish gardens near a window prevents lopsided growth.


  • First, line a suitable container with a bed of charcoal, to keep the compost. Sweet. Cover this with a layer of gravel, to improve drainage.
  • Add the compost to the dish, separating it from the gravel below with some nylon mesh. When buying compost, consider the needs of the plants chosen.
  • It is a good idea to try out several different arrangements, and this can be made easier by keeping plants in their pots until you feel happy with a design.
  • Remove plants from pots and bed them down into the desired position. Gently tease compost !non rootballs that are too bulk y, and add small props for effect.

dish-garden-gift-setChoosing plants for dish gardens

Dish gardens, with their tiny plants in a scaled-down landscape, can enchant adults and children alike. Here’s how to create them, in a variety of styles.

Decide whether your display is for a sunny or shady spot, in a warm or cool room, and choose plants to match. Most terrarium plants are suitable for dish gardens, but those needing high humidity, such as Maidenhair Fern and Selaginella, are risky, unless misted frequently.

Plants with small root systems, such as Earth Stars, airplants and other bromeliads, are ideal. So are slow-growing plants, such as cacti and succulents. For an unusual dish garden, plant three or four different varieties of Living Stones.

Plants for dish gardens in the sun

  • Aeonium species
  • Burro’s Tail (Sedum morgamanum)
  • Candle Plant (Kleinia articulate)
  • Earth Stars (Crypt-mu-bus species)
  • Echeveria species Haworthia species
  • Hedgehog Aloe
  • Jade Plant (Crassula ()yam)
  • Jelly Bean Plant (Sedum rubtotinctum)
  • Kalanchoe blossfeldiana
  • Living Stones (Lithops) Lobivia species
  • Fittonia argyroneura nana
  • Ivy (Hederd helix varieties)
  • Mind-Your-Own-Business
  • Mother Spleenwort (Asplenium bulbilerum)
  • Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea elegans) Peperomia species
  • Trailing Fig (Ficus radicans)
  • Sweet Flag (Acorns gramineus ‘Variegittus’)
  • Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila)
  • Partridge Breast (Aloe variegate)
  • Tiger’s Jaws (Faucdrid rigrin;I)
  • Plants for dish gardens in light shade
  • African Violet (Saintpaulia varieties)
  • Brake Fern (Ptcris species)
  • Button Fern (Pellaca rotunditOlia)
  • Rat’s Tail Cactus (Aporocactus tlagellilotmis)

Choose plants with a variety of strong but scaled-down characters: Jade Plants or miniature palms as vertical features; Mind-Your-OwnBusiness, Creeping Fig or a small-leaved variety of Ivy as ‘lawn’; and miniature Euonymus or Echeveria as ‘shrubs’. Many garden centres have ‘tot’ displays, with a large selection of inexpensive plants, under 10cm (4in) high. Or use dish gardens to propagate tiny plantlets, such as Spider Plant or Mother-of-Thousands, and pot them on once they outgrow the dish. Compact, sun-loving succulents are ideal for setting in dish gardens.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.