Miniature indoor gardens

Any shallow container, from a soup plate upwards, could be used for this. Even baskets or wood boxes will do if lined with plastic or a double thickness of cooking foil. If, as is likely, the container does not have any drainage holes, then a 1-inch layer of pebbles or charcoal should go in before filling with John Innes Compost No. 2, well moistened, to 1 inch below the top. The choice of plants should be deter-mined first by where you are going to stand the garden (in light or shade, with or without central heating, and so on), second by their watering needs (don’t mix cacti with plants that need more water) and finally by their growth (some plants which are tiny to start with can leap ahead and dominate the rest).

Low, trailing plants are an obvious choice for the front of the garden, with taller ones further back – perhaps even a little Bonsai tree. The effect is improved if the compost is heaped up a bit towards the back, and a few pebbles or small rocks added. Some people enjoy modelling bridges or urns, making pools from pieces of mirror, adding sea shells, toy birds, paths of sand, and so forth. Covering the surface with gravel or aquarium chips is a good idea, not merely for appearance but to reduce the evaporation of moisture from the compost. Water loss is a particular problem with these gardens, which have a large surface area. A big plastic bag can be put over the whole container at times, and spraying the leaves is a help. Grass grown from seed and trimmed with scissors will help to conserve moisture.

In choosing plants, try to vary the shapes of the plants and of their leaves and pick contrasting foliage colours. Use your finger or a teaspoon to dig holes large enough to take the plant’s roots without crushing them in. Press the compost down firmly. A garden like this is best started in spring or early summer, watered adequately (with liquid fertilizer added to the water) throughout the growing and flowering months, then fairly drastically thinned out in autumn. Some plants may by then need digging up and dividing in two, or at least cutting back. As with most indoor plants, they appreciate a spell outdoors during summer, but not standing in the full blaze of sun.

Here are some suggestions for plant combinations: Long-lasting flowers in brilliant pinks and reds are produced by Centaury and Pimpernel if stood in a sunny spot. The former, 2 to 3 inches high, has glossy leaves; the latter is a very low plant, ideal for overhanging the edges of the container. For contrast, add a white miniature Rose (6 to 10 inches high) at the back and a small variety of Pelargonium or a Busy Lizzie cut back regularly to the required size. Keep out of direct sunlight and well watered.

A group of succulents needing very little watering: Cacti are an obvious choice or a collection of Saxifrages of different varieties, green and silvery. They will spread and mingle with one another. The Saxifrages should be kept in light shade. Succulents that can be kept small if not given too much compost include Aloe, Crassula, Sempervivum, Kalenchoe, Sedum and Kleinia. If you choose varieties of different heights these plants can make a very decorative all-year display, needing little attention.

A demure pink and white garden to put where there is no sun (but adequate light) might have in it Viola hederacea (Australian Violets) which are white with purple splashes, Crassula bolusii or cooperi – purple flowers above rosettes of pale green leaves, red on their under-sides, and another variety of Pimpernel – Anagallis collina – which is pink and shade-loving. With them could go a dwarf Cypress or Juniper tree at the back, if the garden gets enough light. As the Crassula needs less watering than the rest, plant it in its own separate pot so that water applied to the others will pass it by.

A miniature bulb garden would be enchanting. You might choose small spring bulbs like indoor Crocuses and Snowdrops for a yellow and white scheme, or Grape hyacinths or Chionodoxa (Glory-of-the-Snow) for their beautiful blue. Add Helxine soleirolii aurea (Baby’s Tears) for an all-over carpet of tiny golden leaves brimming over the edges of the container through which the bulbs can thrust their shoots later. Do not over water. An attractive grouping of foliage plants with coloured leaf-markings could consist of Tradescantia, Pilea cadierei and Pilea Moon Valley, Nidularium (Bird’s Nest Bromeliad), Scindapsis Marble Queen, Fittonia, Pcperomia, Saxifraga sarmentosum and Zebrina.

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