Wednesday Vignette – mini table gardens

At Joy Creek Nursery, we have these wonderful fern tables sitting around. They are the result of several years of fern table workshops that are taught by Richie Steffen of the Elizabeth Miller Botanical Garden . These fern tables are built on 4 sf concrete pavers, and always attract attention from visitors. They are for sale, but to my knowledge, we haven’t sold one yet, as they weigh something like 250 lbs. These things are HEAVY! So, even if they were to sell, the logistics of loading, transport, and unloading complicate things. And yet, everybody wants one.

I took Richie Steffen’s workshop two years ago (wrote about it here). By now, I have four fern tables in my shady garden, but I have also used what I learned to make elevated table gardens for sun. I have so little of it, that I figured if I raise these miniature gardens on some kind of pedestal (usually plain old concrete blocks), the plants will get more sun than if they were at ground level. The difference is probably not great, but there is definitely a difference, and so far, my theory has proven successful, and I’ve been able to keep things alive that I’m pretty sure would have suffocated had they had to fend for themselves down below. And, more plants is always better… right?

So, where am I going with this? Nowhere, except to say that I had a super fun day today. In anticipation of the upcoming table garden workshop  this weekend, I was asked to make a handful of miniature table gardens of a size that an average person WOULD be able to lift. Of course, most people that attend that workshop will want to make their very own table garden at home, but these little transportable ones would satisfy those who come in any other time, and admire our big ones.

I set out to make five. The base is a 1 sf concrete paver, available from any box store. The process is the same as with the larger pavers, except your surface area is 75% less. After scouring the compost heaps for appealing logs, branches, etc., I swept through the retail tables, collecting suitable candidates. Lemme tell you – there are plenty of awesome small-ish plants to choose from! I had a whole cart full, and then I hadn’t even stuck my head in the shade section!

The same ratio that applies to the surface, applies to the number of plants. Since one can squeeze 20-25 plants into a 4 sf table, it was no surprise to realize that I could fit 5-6 plants into a square foot. Which, of course, is why table gardens have SUCH an attraction to a cramscaper. With the riches of Joy Creek at my disposal, you can imagine that I was blissfully engaged for hours – I had so much fun! I will post photos of these mini-worlds later. For this week’s Vignette, I offer you a couple of detail shots of one of my favorite plants living in my sunny 2′ x 2′ table at home; Papaver miyabeanum – a treasure found at local favorites Xera.

Papaver miyabeanum

Sweet little Papaver miyabeanum, with its greenish petals, and blue-green foliage. Me likes!


As poppies go, the flowers don’t last very long. I hope the same for the tables I made today. If everything was right in the world, they would find their new homes without much delay. Because, who in their right mind would opt for a hanging basket, when they could have a micro table garden???

About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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19 Responses to Wednesday Vignette – mini table gardens

  1. designinaday says:

    May the great good thing bless George Shenk author who has inspired many to build gardens on tables. I wonder if R Steffens knew George Shenk? Love his book on this subject. It’s an exciting topic and I too have photos of the old fern garden table tops at Joy Creek. I tried a salad garden table over an old patio table but can’t seem to get and keep the soil saturated. The bottom is just wire mesh not actual table top. It grows Calluna vulgaris Caleb Threkhold, (a 2″ never prune heather) various sedums, thyme, mini spring bulbs, and a red veined bitter green just fine but not salad. I’ll be happy to see your photos…thanks. Car

    • annamadeit says:

      I don’t know if he knew him, but I know he read his book on the subject. He told us that when I took the workshop. It’s a great book – I have it too! A salad garden, huh? What a fun idea! I wonder if you could line the table with some of those root mats that can be found on overgrown nursery trays. They might help keep water in…
      Thanks for commenting – I’ll post pictures soon! 🙂

  2. Lovely idea. We have those poppies

  3. Tina says:

    I like these tables. Here, we can do similar kinds of plantings, though more with succulents and the like.

    • annamadeit says:

      I used several succulents in yesterdays tables, and things like thyme, but also other things like sandworts, etc. Small as they are, they turned out super cute, if I may say so. 🙂

  4. Kris P says:

    Fern tables aren’t something I’d seen here at all until a found one at Sherman Gardens in Orange County a couple of weeks ago but that remains my one and only sighting. However, sun tables are probably something we could do! I hope the weekend workshop goes splendidly. Here’s my Wednesday Vignette, another round on what’s becoming an obsession:

    • annamadeit says:

      I had such a blast building the sun tables, Kris! You should definitely try it out – I can almost guarantee they will become a new obsession! SO MUCH FUN!!!

  5. I can’t wait to see what you made, please share photos soon! It’s so strangely satisfying to cram a bunch of plants into a small table garden, isn’t it?

    My WV:

  6. bergstromskan says:

    Will a fern table survive in Ohio? If so, let us make one when you visit in August🙏🏼😻

  7. Pingback: Wednesday Vignette: Foggy & Pale Thoughts – A Moveable Garden

  8. mmwm says:

    Looking forward to seeing your tables. I like the photo of the poppy after the petals fell off. Here’s mine:

  9. Pingback: Five miniature table gardens | Flutter & Hum

  10. What a cool concept! Though maybe something not meant to sell retail, more of a DIY thing.

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks! We hope it can be both. Obviously anyone taking the class would like to make their own, but you’d be amazed how many people just want it without the effort (or as I would see it – the fun!)

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