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Desert Gardening: Making a Miniature Garden

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Lowe’s regional gardening expert shows how to adapt the trend of miniature container gardens to the desert Southwest.

Finished miniature desert garden

By Scott Calhoun

Miniature gardens are hot. They’re clever, creative, and they don’t require a lot of space. No wonder they’re so popular.

With a miniature garden you can combine interests, such as model railroading and dollhouse furniture collecting, with horticulture. With the exception of the die-cast metal 1965 Ford pickup model and a plastic boar, I purchased everything pictured in this container from Lowe’s. Below are the steps I took to make this mini garden a reality.

Finished miniature desert garden.

Step One: Find an idea. To start a mini garden you need an idea and maybe some props. For my idea I had an old die-cast Ford truck model (these are available new at hobby shops or secondhand at thrift stores) and a toy plastic boar, which looks a lot like our native “desert pig,” the javelina. I wanted to make the truck appear stuck and abandoned, half submerged in desert soil, and surrounded by desert plants. I got this idea from an abandoned pickup I saw on a ranch. I planned to place the javelina so it looked like it was inspecting the scene.

Step Two: Buy the right container. After you have determined which props to use, you need a container wide enough for them, as well as the plants you plan to add. I chose a handsome and lightweight teal plastic container that was plenty big for the space.

Mini garden supplies.

Step Three: Think about plants. In my mini garden I used plants sharing similar water needs—largely cactus and one species of succulent. Plants include: silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii), which serves as the tallest plant at the back of the container; thimble cactus (Mammillaria gracilis fragilis), for its small size at the front of the border; and a weird crested pincushion (Mammillaria elongata ‘Cristata’), which has nice burnt orange spines and a wavy, corallike shape. The last plant I used was plain old medicinal aloe, sometimes called aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis).

Step Four: Plant and arrange. Make sure your container has drainage holes (punch holes if not), then fill up your pot with soil until it is about two thirds full. For cactus and succulents use a mix labeled for cactus, pictured. At this point I like to set the plants and props in the container, and move them around until I’m happy with the arrangement.

Finished miniature garden container.

Step Five: Finish and top-dress. After planting I used two sizes of gravel to finish the pot: a chunky “Gold California Rock” and finer “Decomposed Granite,” both available in bags at Lowe’s. Those gravels act as mulch and are better for cactus and succulent container plantings than organic mulches. After using a cup to sprinkle the gravel around (not on) plants and props, I used a hose nozzle with a gentle sprinkle setting to wash the dust off the new plantings.

Step Six: Don’t limit yourself. If I can incorporate a toy pickup and wild boar posing as a javelina into my miniature desert container, certainly you can come up with outlandish ideas of your own—perhaps even using props you have sitting around the house. If you have children, get them involved; making a miniature garden is sure to spark their imagination.

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