In-ground Miniature Gardening


Choosing a spot in the garden bed that will suit the light and water requirements for your new miniature plants is easy when you know what to look for. Consider these points before planting to help keep the all the variables at the top-of-mind as you design your garden.

The Golden Rule of Gardening: “Right plant, right place.” Choose the plants that will thrive in the chosen space. Plant shade plants in shade and plant full-sun plants in full-sun. Plants that love moisture around the roots, plant them in a spot where the soil is naturally moist. There is a plant to suit almost any condition too. If you are new to gardening or having trouble finding plants that work in your area, visit your local independent nursery for advice on all aspect of the garden. We have zone information in all our plant listings in our online – heat zones and cold zones.

How to Amend Your Garden Soil

A little bit of thought now will go a long way in having a successful miniature garden that will last for years to come. Your local garden center will know all there is to know about the soil in your area if you are just starting to learn about gardening.

Good soil + quality plants = less maintenance

HOW TO JUDGE GOOD SOIL: Dig up a shovel full of soil in the garden bed and have a good look at it. If it is too sandy, too clay-like, or too much like dirt, add compost (not mulch!) There should be a nice blend of broken-down matter, tiny bark chips, almost black bits and be very organic looking and have a nice earthy smell to it, and it should hold itself together when you ball it up in your hand. Dirt is a sandy, bland, pale gray or brown color that will just crumble in your hand, will not smell earthy and look dead.

Most often, you’ll only need to add compost to improve the overall quality of the soil already in the garden bed. Always add more compost than top-soil, the plants will love you for it. A mixture of topsoil and compost at a ratio of at least 1:2 is perfect. For example, add one bag of top-soil and 2 bags of compost. We seldom add topsoil, only organic compost, in our garden.

Do not use potting soil in the garden bed, it is for contained environments only.

Properly conditioning your soil will affect your water needs too. Water doesn’t easily penetrate clay soils and passes too quickly beyond the roots in sandy soils. By adding organic compost to clay and sandy soils, it will increase the penetrability of clay soil and the water holding capacity of sandy soil. Check with your local independent garden center about what’s best to amend the soil in your area. If you have clay, read about lasagna gardening next before you do anything – this method saved us a ton of grief.

How to Plant on Grass – For Clay Soil Too

Thankfully we have technique that is called “Lasagna Gardening” so you don’t have to painstakingly dig up the grass before making the garden bed – we build the garden on top of the grass. There are many ways to do it but the end result is the same. We built our miniature and full-size garden this way here in Seattle. When we bought the house in 2010 we didn’t think to check the quality of the soil and it was all clay. Like, buy a kiln and make some bowls kind of clay.


LAYER IT: Use cardboard boxes that have been flattened and lay the cardboard squares down on the spot where you want the garden bed to be. Overlap the edges by at least 5” to 6” inches so nothing can grow through the cracks. Then pile at least 8” of topsoil/compost on top of the layer of cardboard. Be prepared to add more compost at the end of the season as the grass and cardboard decompose, the level of the garden soil will go down.

LAYERING WEEDS: Some use layers of newspaper combined with the cardboard for a thicker layer. If you are covering weeds or invasive plants, this may be required – only after you have cut the weeds down completely and removed all the plant material so it can not re-root. All areas are different and your local garden center will be able to help you chose what is best for your particular spot. A simple phone call about the best way to eradicate a certain weed may save you a lot of time and energy. Always choose natural, organic remedies and you’ll get the birds, bees and butterflies in your garden too.

BORDERS: You need one. If you don’t work in a garden border for your bed the grass will creep in and drive you nutty. The low, plastic borders that you dig into the ground and leave a short border is the minimum you should need – we’ve used it in our gardens – but the grass still leaps over it. If you keep the grass in check on a regular basis it shouldn’t be much hassle to maintain. We dug in the border after laying down the cardboard in our garden, as an afterthought, and it still worked out fine.

WHEN TO PLANT: Some wait a couple of months for the grass and compost to settle, starting the process in the fall and it’s ready by the spring. We have planted the garden right away because we moved our main garden in the springtime and didn’t have a choice and didn’t have any problems. We top up the soil each season with fresh compost. Again, it depends on what you are covering. Just be aware that it will settle and give the plant’s roots plenty of depth.

Designing Your In Ground Miniature Garden

When creating a miniature garden in the garden bed, the fun is deciding where to put everything. If you do not have a design yet, here are some ideas to get you started.


  • You can place the plants while they are still in their black nursery pots and you can play with the design until your satisfied but do not let the soil dry out while you are thinking about it. Move the plants around to try different combinations until it feels and looks right to you. It is your own world to arrange how you like but think of how the viewer would approach the space and view the garden – it’s fun to force the viewer to interact with the space, move around and look at or for the different miniature garden rooms you’ve created.
  • You can use a length of string or ribbon to help decide the outline shape of the patio and paths, and lay the string down around the edge of where the future patio will be.
  • To start designating and organizing the space where your miniature garden will be planted, consider the immoveable objects like the sidewalk, trees, full-size plants, rocks, or the edge of the garden bed, and either tie it into your design or use that as a starting point and work out your layout from there. Example: using the edge of the sidewalk, plant ground covers next to it, then low shrubs or perennials, then the taller trees as you plant towards the back of the bed.
  • Cater your design to how the viewer will see it and observe the design from different angles to see the gaps in the design, and where you may need to add a plant or a move a tree over a little. This might take a few months or several seasons to work out. Be patient and let it grow in. You can always add to it and move the plants around. Gardens grow and evolve and the fun part is growing with them.
  • You can also use the full-size garden elements like trees and rocks as a backdrop, or wall, for your miniature world.
  • Choose plants that will provide layers and use larger trees to anchor the back of the garden, medium height plants next, then fill in with the low-growing ground covers in the front. As you do so, your patio and pathways area will begin to emerge.


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