Miniature conifers are the showpiece plants of the Botanical Garden. True miniature conifers can be hard to find. Look for them at your local independent garden center. They can also be tricky to grow; however, if you can purchase them locally or buy them online, they’re worth a try to grow because they are just so interesting. True mini-conifers grow less than 4 inches per year. (Some grow as little as 1 / 2 inch per year.) Yet they still look just like their full-sized counterparts. You’ll have a, “Honey, I
shrunk the plants!” reaction upon looking at them.

This is a garden designed and planted to last for a long time. It’s worth the money to invest in a high-quality container (hypertufa, in this case) to showcase your tiny specimens. Unlike some of the other miniature gardens, with the right care, this garden can remain, virtually untouched, for several years.

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Soothing green and gray tones in the plants, container, and accessories make this garden restful to look at.



Materials

To replicate the look of a botanical garden, use a variety of mulches and gravels for the patios and pathways. This gives the illusion of a garden that’s larger, with different garden “rooms.”

Clockwise, from lower left: alabaster chips, small fir bark pieces, and fairy garden gravel.

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Accessories

  • “Concrete” fountain
  • “Concrete” statue
  • “White marble” resin statue
  • “Concrete” planting urn

Resin cat

  • The style of this garden is “formal historical” and is carried through with the faux concrete and marble accessories.
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Plant a few perennials with the conifers for texture and depth

Plants

  • Sedum, fine leaf gold stonecrop
  • Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Sprite’ (in finished garden), dwarf Hinoki cypress
  • Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Tuffet’ (pictured), golden tuffet arborvitae
  • Miniature hosta
  • Juniperus horizontalis ‘Pancake’, dwarf creeping juniper
  • Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Red Star’, dwarf white cedar
  • Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’, dwarf mondo grass (not pictured)
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Container

To complement the accessories, this garden is planted in a hypertufa pot that is 19 inches wide and 9 inches deep. While lighter than concrete, this container is still quite heavy when it’s planted.

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Hypertufa pots are handmade from a unique mixture of cement, peat moss, and perlite. As such, they have natural variations in color and texture.

Potting Soil

Use regular potting soil for this project.

Botanical Garden Step by Step

Fill the container

Fill the container with potting soil, leaving 3 inches between the top of the soil and the rim of the container. Place the plants in the pot to determine spacing. These plants are going to grow in the same pot for a long time, so this step is important. Plant them where you want them the first time. Take care to add soil so that all of the plants’ roots are fully covered. (Dwarf mondo grass, in particular, resists being thoroughly planted. It seems like there’s always a root that wants to escape. It is also a plant that doesn’t grow well unless the roots are fully covered, unlike many succulents.)

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Place Main Accessories

While you’re placing the plants, you can also place the main accessories. In this garden, the biggest plant is the dwarf white cedar and the largest accessory is the fountain. (To give the fountain more width and height, it is placed on top of the base that came with the faux concrete statue.)

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Mulch the garden

White alabaster chips form a base for one of the statues. Fine granite chip gravel (which came as mulch on top of the miniature conifers) covers the “ground” around the concrete fountain and “marble” statue.

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Tip: Don’t leave the soil bare! You can always use small wood-chip mulch or soil conditioner as mulch on top of a miniature garden.
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Place the accessories

This statue did not have a pick on the bottom side. It is propped in the garden with alabaster chips at the base to hold it up. The white rock chips contrast nicely with the dark gray of the statue.

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What Is Unique?

When thinking about accessories for any garden’s theme, try to remember what makes the place that you’re recreating with plants different than anywhere else. What is unique about the scene that you’re building?

This miniature botanical garden has a cat resting on the pathway just like many “real” life-sized botanical gardens do. Cats are an important part of the integrated pest-management program at Longwood Gardens where I went to school. Each garden area has its own cat that is responsible for “small mammal population control.” If there’s a garden near you, think about what makes it unique and special, and recreate some of that in miniature for your tabletop version.

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Every garden needs a cat.