Saturday, June 28, 2014

Creating a Garden in Miniature

I came away from my recent trip to Nova Scotia with a renewed fascination for some of 
plant world's smallest members.

The rockgarden in Truro, Nova Scotia

Back home in Ontario, I have two miniature gardens that I created a few years ago using old concrete birdbaths. 

I like the birdbaths because they bring these delicate looking plants up where you can best admire their texture and diminutive blooms.

Both birdbaths have homes in my back garden. Usually I remove the saucer-like top of each birdbath and put them in a protected spot to overwinter. Last fall was hectic, however. I managed to remove only one of the two birdbath tops, and only got as far as placing it on the ground.  As luck would have it, a winter long covering of snow protected this saucer. 

Unfortunately, the other birdbath top was left on its stand all winter and took a beating. Harsh winds and extremely cold temperatures ended up killing all its plants.

Thankfully the birdbath top on the ground sprang back to life this spring.

The moral of this story is: In areas as far north as zone 6b, all birdbath planters definitely 
need some sort of winter protection!

Inspired by my trip home to Nova Scotia, I decided to create a third birdbath planter for the front garden.

Like most birdbaths, this terra cotta birdbath comes in two pieces. (purchased at Terra Nurseries in Milton, ON)

(Terra cotta will crack in winter, so this birdbath will need to be stored in a cool, dry place like a  heated garage overwinter. So far (knock wood!), I have had not problems with my concrete birdbaths cracking in winter.)

To start your birdbath planter, fill the top saucer halfway with fine gravel. I used pea gravel, but if you can find a finer gravel, so much the better. (Note: I have never drilled a hole in the bottom of my birdbaths for drainage. The gravel alone seems to provide enough drainage.)

Find yourself an empty pot and mix together equal portions of fine gravel and a good quality top soil. Gauge the amount of topsoil/gravel mixture you need according to the size of your birdbath.

Now pour the gravel and topsoil mixture on top of your first layer of pea gravel. Ideally when you are finished pouring, the soil/gravel mixture should be just below the top lip of the birdbath.

Now you are ready to start planting.

This particular birdbath planter will be in full sun. 

There is a wide array of plants you could choose from for sunny conditions. I could imagine a birdbath planted with something as simple as tiny white alyssum or trailing mini-petunias could be quite nice.

For my own birdbath planter, I chose perennials: Thrift 'Nifty Thrifty' (top left), Scotch Moss, Sagina Subulata 'Aurea' (top right), Elfin Thyme (bottom left), and Crane's Bill Geranium, Erodium 'Bishop's Form'. I also used (not show here): Pink's 'Brilliant', Dianthus deloides and Adriatic Bellflower, Campanula garganica 'Dickson's Gold', Wooly thyme and a tray of succulents.

If you have shade, fear not. There are still lots of plants you can choose from.

There are small scale ferns and Creeping Jenny (as seen here).

How about using Ajuga, 'Chocolate Chip' (top left), Dwarf Goatsbeard, Aruncus aethusifolius (top right), Lamium 'Red Nancy' (bottom left) or Creeping Speedwell, Veronica filiformis (bottom right)?

Miniature hostas are another group of plants you might want to consider for shade conditions. (Warning: these hosta are adorable, but very pricy! Maybe get a gardening friend to buy a second variety and trade pieces.) 

Hosta 'Ruffled Mouse Ears' (top left), Hosta 'Cherish' (top right), Hosta 'Mini Skirt' (bottom left), and Hosta 'Cracker Crumbs' (bottom right). Who comes up with these names anyway? Hosta 'Cracker Crumbs'. How cute is that?

Adriatic Bellflower, Campanula garganica 'Dickson's Gold'

Begin planting along the outer circumference of the top saucer. Plants that will trail or spill over the lip of the birdbath are a nice choice. 

As you dig down carefully, you will displace some of the soil and gravel to make room for the roots of the potted plants you are adding. 

Spread the displaced soil evenly, slightly mounding it up in centre. In doing so, you are creating a bit of a rounded mushroom shape. (If you need to, you can always discard some excess soil mix back into the terra cotta pot where you created your soil/gavel mixture.)

Top dress any gaps between your plants with a sprinkling of more gravel. Add any decorations you want. I added a trio of little ceramic mushrooms purchased at the Dollarstore.

Water well until your plants are established and enjoy.

Here are two other birdbath planters that might inspire you. This birdbath is filled with an assortment of hostas and has Creeping Jenny spilling over the sides.

This birdbath is a shady spot is planted with ferns and Creeping Jenny.

What really makes it special however, is not the plants. It's the wonderful smooth, black pebbles.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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  1. Love it! The plants are so beautiful!!

  2. So pretty! I love the different Alpine plants they fascinate me and alas it is far too hot to grow them here. Your birdbath is exquisite.

  3. The bird bath idea is very good. As you say the plants being raised, they are easier to admire. Here the whole garden is on the rock and I have rock garden plants everywhere.
    I also got Campanula garganica 'Dickson's Gold' this year but found out that it would enjoy some shade. I have it in full sun and it is cooking. I will have to shade it during the sunniest part of the day if I want to keep it.

  4. Very pretty indeed and being raised like that makes them so easy to manage. I have two troughs but have to bend when tending them. I like the idea of one in the shade, must put my thinking cap on!

  5. No heated garage so this will not work for me using a bird bath, but I have a concrete planter that overwinters with miniature hosta under the stairs on the patio.

    I wanted to move one hosta out and add some accent plants...I have some great ideas now. Thanks Jennifer!

  6. At one time every garden had a rock garden but you hardly see them any more - your bird bath garden is a beautiful alternative - I love these miniature plants that would get lost in a normal garden and having them high off the ground gives you a chance to see the beauty in the tiny flowers. I may well take this idea and go with it if I can find a reasonably priced birdbath.

  7. There's a birdbath saucer tucked into a corner of a shade garden that has been neglected for a while. I think I'll fill it with miniature hosta (Mouse Ears & Guacamole) and some ferns. That will give it some life. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. Jennifer, thank you SO very much.
    I actually have 2 "not being used" bird baths, and you can bet that come tomorrow, they are going to become miniature gardens. Again, I thank you!!

  9. Sorry to hear that Birdbath Planter #2 didn't overwinter but glad it inspired you to create Birdbath Planter #3! Great choice of plants that look good together and shouldn't crowd each other out. And I love the Dollar Store mushrooms :)

  10. The bird bath idea is very pretty indeed! Love all the plants. Have a wonderful summertime! xo

  11. Someday...I want to create a little garden in a birdbath too Jennifer. Yours is so pretty and I so appreciate your instructions.
    sending hugs...

  12. A word of caution/safety from Debbie Jackson of Walhalla, SC on Hometalk:
    With terra cotta birdbaths like these, please be anchor them carefully and together. Do this esp if you have small children wanting to looking them or touch the contents. I had a friend toddler son die after one feel on him as he played in the water. It caused internal ingeries.

    1. Thank you Debbie for bringing up the issue of safety. The incident you describe is tragic! Birdbaths are heavy, especially the concrete ones. I agree that any homeowner should be cautious about placing a birdbath where a young child might accidentally topple it over.

  13. Love your birdbath planter! I had an inexpensive birdbath that cracked and filled it up with plants, too. But I hadn't thought of the gravel, which is a great idea, especially to anchor the soil.

  14. Oh....I just LOVED this, I love all things miniature and alpines especially. It looks

  15. I've always loved those birdbath gardens, but never quite knew how to make them. I would have sworn you needed to drill a hole. Interesting that you don't! I hope to try it this year.

    1. I know this flies in the face of everything you have ever heard about drainage, but so far so good with not drilling a drainage hole. My theory is that the roots of this tiny plants are fairly shallow and so the gravel at the bottom of the saucer section works well enough that the plants do fine in summer.
      Winter is the time when sitting in wet soil does a plant in. Just remember to provide them with a bit of winter protection.

  16. It looks great! And what a great idea!!!!

  17. Your birdbath planter is adorable! The color of the plants coordinate very well with the blue birdbath. I have been thinking about dabbling with miniatures. Your post is inspirational!

  18. Jennifer girl I absolutely love this planter ! I wish I could find some affordable birdbaths in that type of material .. I think I am going to make this a project for 2015 one way or another I will find the right container and do this because it is such a pretty focal point to come upon when walking through the garden ! Simple gorgeous !
    Joy : )


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