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Northwest Gardening: Tabletop Garden

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Layers of colorful sand and fine gravel give a desert look to a contemporary garden of sedums and cacti.

finished bowl of sedum, cacti and gravel

By Marianne Binetti

You can create a miniature garden that says “contemporary” instead of “cute.” Just choose the right container and plants, then layer sand and gravel to create a living centerpiece with clean, modern lines.  

supplies of potted plants, tongs, rocks

I started with an old punch bowl because it will show off the layers of decorative sand and gravel. (You could also use clear canisters or a goldfish bowl.)
Next, I visited the houseplant section of my nearest Lowe’s store. I scored great bargains on two succulents and two mini cacti, and spent under $8 for all four. Tip: Sedums and succulents not only look natural with the sand and gravel layers but also need very little water.  
Also in the houseplant section, I bought a bag of sand, some fine gravel, and some larger pebbles. At home, I added a purple crystal rock for accent. My other supplies were a sheet of paper to fold and create the barrier between the sand and the soil, and some tongs to handle the cacti and adjust the sand layers.

blue paper inside glass bowl

Here’s how to do it:

Step One: Fold the paper into a strip so it sits just below the container rim. (I taped the ends secure, and folded the edges to form the inner circle or soil barrier.)

soil inside blue paper inside glass bowl

Step Two: Place potting soil, gravel, or rocks in the bottom of the inner circle to support the pots of cacti. (I used potting soil.)

plants in pots sitting on top of soil inside blue paper

Step Three: Do not remove the plants from their tiny pots. Set the pots on top of the soil and fill in around the pots with more soil so they are stable and sit just above the line of the paper circle. Tip: Use tongs to handle the spiky cacti. Don’t worry about the paper showing at this point – it’s mulched with the final frosting of colorful rock. Arrange the accent rock and any other design element when you place the pots.

First layer of pink gravel in glass bowl with tongs

Step Four: After making sure no soil spills onto the sides of the glass container, you are ready to pour a first layer of fine gravel between the glass walls and inner circle of paper. The folded paper creates a narrow gap, so you don’t need as much decorative sand and gravel to create the layers. You can pour the gravel in mounds, or adjust the levels using the tongs.

glass bowl close up with three layers

Step Five: Pour the contrasting sand layer as the second wave or layer. (I placed more fine gravel on top of the middle sand layer to create three different layers.) Now use the tongs or a chopstick to push the top layer down into the bottom layer and create some waves.

bowl of cacti and rocks on top

Step Six: Finish off the display by placing the largest rocks on top, covering the inner circle of paper, and the rims of the small pots. (I partly buried the purple crystal rock among the gravel mulch.)

Aftercare: Do not overwater. Use a spoon or syringe to add a tablespoon of water around the base of each plant about every two months. This way the soil inside each pot absorbs the water, and the decorative sand along the sides of the glass stays dry. Keep the bowl in a bright window and rotate it every few weeks so plants can absorb the sunshine.

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