Miniature Gardens: Design and create miniature fairy gardens, dish gardens, terrariums, and more--indoors and out book

A book by Katie Elzer-Peters
Book review
Miniature Gardens: Design and create miniature fairy gardens, dish gardens, terrariums and more—indoors and out
by Katie Elzer-Peters
Published by Cool Springs Press
400 First Ave N, Suite 300
Minneapolis MN 55401
192 pages, softbound, 8" x 10",
359 color photos
Price: $22.99
I’ve seen garden railroaders shopping the fairy-garden stores for accessories and oohing at the miniature-landscape displays. This book opens up the secrets of designing wow-able little landscapes, step-by-step, rule-by-rule. Yes, you really do need design rules, says the author, Katie Elzer-Peters in her 192-page Miniature Gardens paperback. Photos with directions show modelers how to construct 15 miniature gardens (no fairies needed). Like any how-to project, she starts with a materials list, then tells you what to do with the items, why you’re doing it, and how to keep it growing.

The author has done her homework, having studied at Longwood Gardens and managed several botanical gardens, where public education was her job. Because volumes on miniature plants are few and far between, this one may be just the book of tips that will push some fence sitters into starting a small railway. After all, we study necessary guides on electrical wiring or building materials to get into those aspects of the hobby. If you’re wondering what container plantings have to do with garden railroads, the design principles are transferable to your garden railway, just as seeing a video of a 1:1 train rolling into a local station will show you where to place scale items around a depot.

Railroaders will definitely want to know about “Scale,” the first topic in the design chapter—how to pair plants with accessories (non-plant items). Next, “Contrast” illustrates “The big three: color, form, and texture.” The “Focal Point” chapter tells you how to arrange items to grab attention and support the focus. A viewer should be able to see the landscape’s 1:1 inspiration if you follow the “Theme” chapter. The “Repetition” section is a good lesson for a lot of us.

The “Plant Profiles” section focuses on 35 diminutive plants or groups of plants—not an overwhelming number of choices but representative of commonly available plants. Once plants are identified, readers can learn how to grow them from the author’s charts, see how they’re used in the 15 sample gardens, then substitute a similar species or type for your specific USDA Hardiness Zone if necessary.

A large part of the book is devoted to the lessons—15 mini gardens, each different in every way. As a model railroader, you might like to dress up your scale Victorian house by following the guide on page 160: “Victorian Garden Party.” The accessories used are surprisingly lacking in cutesy plastic stuff, in spite of the fairy theme in the title.

Planting a “Woodland Hideaway” requires entirely different plants for shade than the bog-lovers in “Miniature Water Garden,” and the plants are identified. Do you have an indoor window greenhouse or sunny spot? Maybe you’d like to model “Wild Wild West” or plant a “Mini-Kitchen Garden” for edible mini herbs. Certainly, the latter could become the farmer’s crops near the barn in your outdoor railway garden.

Miniature Gardens can also help kids to contribute to railroad gardens. My granddaughters wanted to build their own scene, with a theme based on a Michaels craft-store building. Mina painted a steepled building to represent the school to which Mary’s lamb followed her in the nursery rhyme. Her fillers were purple sweet alyssum. Marley painted a henhouse red, so we put a wire fence around it and greened up the edges by repeating tiny succulents, including two mini jade trees.

As the author Elzer-Peters suggested, each of our designs incorporated an open area; the chickens needed a place to scratch and the lamb needed a place to wait for school to end. Both open areas we concreted in place to prevent groundcover from obscuring the focal point, where the action is. For our project’s plants, we used mostly rugged, kid-proof succulents. The girls moved their miniature gardens to a new home, where a railway is waiting to be built off the deck. When they get that going, the bowls can be transplanted to the railway.


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