Create… create!

As luck would have it, Judy – one of the GardenTime co-hosts – had visited Joy Creek and gotten a kick out of the table gardens on display out there. Long story short – as some of you may have already seen – I ended up building one on camera for their show, a week before we filmed the Mt Angel project – which won’t air until July 13th. Twice in two weeks – a bit nerve-racking, I admit. You can totally tell I was nervous – LOL!


Anyway, despite the best intentions, there are always pointers that either aren’t said, or are edited out. So, I thought I’d go back and fill in my perceived blanks, and add some useful tips that, for whatever reason, were omitted the first time. For the most part, what applies to building a bigger table garden still applies here, for these mini ones. But some things do change because of the smaller size, that are worth keeping in mind:

  • Go beyond the box. There is no reason to stay within the limitations of your paver – or whatever your hard surface is. Think about this as you would Ikebana. It is absolutely fine to use branches that extend beyond – in fact,  I recommend it. It adds movement and drama to your creation.
  • Use the roots to your advantage. One of the two trickiest parts of building these small arrangements is to keep the soil from spilling out over corners and edges. In the video, when I cut the thyme down the middle, I split it open and – with the top still intact, splayed the two halves to create a corner out of the root mass. Not all plants are suitable for this kind of manhandling, but thymes, low growing sedums, blue star creeper, and other types of ground covers often lend themselves beautifully to this, as they have no main root that needs to stay intact. In some instances, I’ve successfully cut the contents of a 4″ pot into 1″ pieces.
  • Cover all roots. Okay, I have a confession to make… This As-Seen-On-TV arrangement was not perfect in this regard. As time was limited, I was trying to do it as quickly as I could, and fudged it a little, so the kind folks of Garden Time could move on with their day. I did go back afterwards, and shaved off additional root mass in a couple of places, and covered any exposed parts with wood or rocks. This helps your creation retain water, and prevents the plants from drying out too soon. As you saw, the fishing line helps keep the main parts together if you are moving your masterpiece. But sometimes, keeping these little rocks and wood pieces that protect roots from slipping, is frustrating. I have had luck using the kinds of staples used for keeping landscape fabric in place to temporarily pin them down. A sturdy piece of wire would work, too.
  • Add the soil later. I soon realized that a main difference between building larger table gardens and small ones, is that there is very little room for extra soil in the miniatures. So, instead of what was taught in the workshop, where we started with a pile of soil on the surface followed by branches and logs – here you start with branches, and then the plants. Not until after they are in place, do you fill in with soil around them.
  • Add some height. I like to use either a log, part of a stump, or – as here – a kink in a branch, to create a sense of verticality to the mini garden. Often, I also double up by using a taller plant – like the Carex ‘Frosty Curls’ in this one. I guess it’s not always a necessity – depending on what your goal is – but from a compositional aspect, it’s worth considering, I think.
  • 5-6 plants per sf. I figured out that the same ratio in terms of plant count that applies to the larger pavers, also applies to the single square foot paver used here.  Count on using about 5-6 plants per square foot.
  • Water from above. The easiest way to water these with a regular hose is to keep the watering wand on the misting setting, if you have one. If not, I shower it from as high up above as I can reach, to mimic a light rain as closely as possible. The reason is that until the various roots start connecting, and “felting” everything together, chances are you will find yourself in need of replacing some of the washed-off soil more often than you maybe have patience for.

I think that’s it. Have fun playing with Flora’s endless varieties of textures, shapes, and colors while you make your own little mini-gardens. If you are making them for yourself, in situ, I would highly recommend going as large as you have space for, but seriously – these little small-scale marvels make fabulous gifts for friends, or anyone who can remember to water them.

And there you have it! Yours truly on TV – as gloriously goofy as ever. Create… create! WTF was THAT??? Hahahahaha! I sure hope I appear a little less silly for the Mt Angel segment…. As for the website – it was kind of Judy to mention it, but don’t bother. I still haven’t managed to upload any pictures to it. I suppose I still have a few days to remedy that before Saturday. Or more so, beg one of my much more tech-savvy kids to please do it for me.



The plants used for this table were: Carex albula ‘Frosty Curls’, Sempervivum arachnoideum tomentosum, Acaena inermis ‘Purpuraea’, Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’, Sedum dasyphyllum ‘Loyd Praeger’, and Thymus pseudolanuginosus.

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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17 Responses to Create… create!

  1. You are becoming quite a star

  2. Excellent pointers Anna!

  3. Alison says:

    Thanks for the tips!

  4. Kris P says:

    You’re a natural on camera, Anna! Great job – and the follow-up tips are wonderful too.

  5. Tina says:

    Oh my, you’re so cute! You’re comfortable and enthusiastic and then you mentioned the table garden would need water everyday–and that’s in Portland! I’m so bad with container plants, I’d never be successful with this, but what a fun project!

    • annamadeit says:

      Haha – thanks, Tina! Well, you know Portland… Contrary to popular belief, we normally have NO rain whatsoever between early July and late October. I have issues keeping containers looking lush, too, when summer heats up and dries out. Plants in the ground generally look SOOO much happier in my garden, but for some reason my table gardens are hanging in there quite well. 🙂

  6. Congratulations! That’s very cool! I didn’t know about table gardens – fascinating stuff.

  7. tonytomeo says:

    Although not a technique I would employ in my own garden, we sometimes do something similar with succulents on top of stone walls. They do not stay there long, mostly through winter, but they are nice until something fills in behind them and stands above the wall. Those that creep up and over the wall on their own get to stay.

    • annamadeit says:

      Yeah, succulents make a lot more sense where you are. A lot of them work great up here, too. 🙂

      • tonytomeo says:

        Succulents are unfortunately more of a token of vanity. They are often displayed as something that uses less water, but they are watered just as much as anything else. Many look better if watered regularly. Those that really are undemanding are not the popular sorts.

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