Working with Naturals

Twigology -Working with Naturals

Working with naturals found from nature can be an ever-evolving pursuit in itself. With a little imagination, nature can be your hardware store.

Stay tuned for:

  • Adhesives – in depth, what works, what binds.
  • Preserving naturals to retain color and pliability
Working with Naturals

Twigology 101

Twigs can be used for a lot of props in a mini garden. A variety of furniture can be made, chairs, benches, fairy huts, arbors, decks and more. If you want fun and fantasy that doesn’t cost much, twigs are an endless source of inspiration and crafting.

And every twig is different too. The Spirea tree gives me shiny, straight, skinny branches. The Cedar hedge has the rustic look down with its textured bark, the Madrona bush has branches that are a lovely shade of red, and they get more interesting with age too. Even the dreaded English Ivy has useful potential when thinking mini garden accessories.

Here are some tips about working with twigs:

– Bend them for miniature arbors and trellises when they are just harvested and still supple. If you don’t have time to complete the project right there and then, at least bend them and let them dry in the right sized box, with a gentle curve to the top and the sides parallel to each other. You can put the cross pieces on later by wrapping floral wire neatly around where the two pieces join.

– With any ivy, hops or strawberry vines, work with it while it’s fresh too. You can wind it in circles for wreaths, or ovals for future mini arbors, or door and window frames, to let dry and work with later. – When making fences, notch the join for a more secure fit. Use a small handsaw and a sharp knife to whittle out the notches to make country fences. – Figure out a simple crosshatch wrap for your wire joins to the wire to keep it at a minimum. Jewelry pliers and wire cutters are great for this kind of work.

– After the twig dries, you’ll have to tighten the wire to make it rigid as the twig will shrink a bit. Drill or poke a small rod (some twigs will have soft centers) right into the bottom of the post/twig to make the fence stay upright in the garden soil.

– Experiment with branches from perennials too. After they fade in the fall, you’ll see the twiggy structure of the plant, and then see the potential.

– Mix and match to your heart’s content. It will just look more ornate and interesting.

Found wood can also be a great resource for building your own miniature garden accessories. The wood is already tempered from the weather and won’t expand and shrink as much as new wood will – and it already comes with a aged patina. Above, the garden shed and the deck were cut from a vegetable crate that was left outside. The wood looked aged before we cut into it.

The above were from the collection of Bobbie Pearson, teacher and mentor of Debbie Schramer.

Above: Naturals as unusual finishes. The sample is 3 1/2″ wide.
From left to right:

Mexican Angel Hair grass – thickest parts
Ornamental oregano petals
Dracena leaves
Hydrangea Petals – 50 approx
Crocosmia leaves
Hawthorn hulls – about 40 used
Hemlock cone pieces – about 6 used here
Mexican Angel Hair grass – thinnest parts

At left: I had the opportunity to work with Bobbe Pearson a few years ago, the granddaughter of a homesteading family in Oregon. I was helping her document her natural work. She was in the natural business before they put any parameters on mailing any plant materials throughout the world and apparently had contacts for all sorts of naturals in all parts of the world. Her and her husband, Bob, supplied artists and florists with all kinds of unusual things. They had a direct mail business too, that sold kits. These are just a few of the pieces I photographed for her. Bobbe Pearson passed a few years ago, around 2013.

Debbie Shramer, now a published natural artist, gleaned a fair amount of information and contacts from Bobbe – a point of contention for the Pearsons, apparently. A book review on Debbie’s Fairy House book will be in the review section of this website.



Working with Moss

Real moss is a wonderful thing. You just can’t beat that green-lush-carpet-magic that only moss can deliver and we are constantly trying to replicate it. The truth is, it’s hard to make moss grow where it doesn’t want to. Most moss needs to be watered through its leaves, not its roots, which makes it a great candidate for terrariums but not-so-much for miniature gardens. We have some work-arounds though – and some warnings.

Fairy Garden Moss

The “fairy garden moss” out on the market today will not work with live plants nor in real soil. It’s fake and should be used only for artificial scenes. That includes any kind of preserved moss, moss sheets, moss clumps, Spanish moss, reindeer moss, whatever you want to call it. And the funniest thing is – it’s expensive! AND THEN, I see videos of “professionals” laying the moss sheets right on the soil, then tucking the odd plant here and there. And, well, that’s just not going to work out well at all. The moss is smothering the soil, keeping the dampness in and creating a nice moldy mess. Oh, and the moss will also fade quickly in the sun too.

  • If you want moss, stick with real moss. 
  • If you want moss, you need the correct environment for it to grow it in which is difficult to replicate if it doesn’t happen naturally.
  • If you want moss to grow on rocks, you need to find moss that grows on rocks or pavement
  • If you want moss to grow on the soil, you need to find moss that grows on the soil.

Here is our moss guru, the indelible David Spain with his great website on everything mossy: And leave that fake moss for your indoor crafty projects. Make a purse for Mom’s Day or a tie for Father’s Day.  

At left top: Comparing real moss (bottom) to the fake moss.

2nd from top: Take a look inside the fake moss and you’ll see fibers. You can’t look inside real moss.

3rd from top: A great alternative is Irish Moss, (Sagina subulata) but it is a perennial, not a moss. It grows into a great miniature garden lawn however. Tiny white flowers in early summer are just the cutest. Great in containers and it may even bonsai itself. In ground, it can be known to mound and form a hill and will need dividing every couple of years to keep it flat and happy.

Bottom: The moss we use for our Moss Terrariums we harvest from our pathways around our studio where we let it cultivate naturally – and keep the dog away from it. We harvest it gently, using a fork.


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