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.