Tabletop gardens welcome spring

A pretty little tabletop garden filled with succulents or a combination of cut flowers and spring vegetables is just the thing to chase away the early spring chill.

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The soil is still a bit too hard — frozen to be exact — in our neck of the woods, southwest of Chicago, to do any serious planting. During this in-between time of year, when the weather is sometimes unsettled, a small portable garden placed on a table, a kitchen counter, or windowsill is a great way to dress up your home and lift your spirits.

A basket filled with a few pots of primroses, a little Zen garden — a ceramic bowl filled with moss — or a shallow container planted with herbs are good choices.

Rosemary McCreary, author of "Tabletop Gardens" (Storey, 168 pages, $16.95) uses herbs, grasses, spring-blooming bulbs, bamboo, orchids,miniature trees, and water-loving plants like cyperus to create striking one-of-a-kind containers.

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“Tabletop gardens bring the outdoors in, and many people want to feel this connection with the natural world,” she says.

Succulents ideal for tabletop gardens

Succulents, with their blue-green chunky leaves, are among her favorites. “They are neat and clean for indoors, and you don’t need much soil," she explains. "They’re inexpensive, fun, and, in a shallow tray, they make a fabulous centerpiece.”

Ms. McCreary purchases a variety of succulents with different sizes and colors of leaves and combines them in one shallow pot that has drainage holes, which is critical for growing these drought-loving plants.

Buying plants in small pots is an economical way to create a miniature garden. And don’t overlook the produce section and the floral displays in your local food market, says floral designer Dennis Kovar of Attica, Ind.

Spring centerpiece

For a fun centerpiece, he uses a simple rectangular basket with a handle, places crunched up newspaper in the bottom, and starts by adding a pot of heather, some small pots of basil and chives, and some cut flowers, which he ties with raffia and places in a plastic cup with water.

He tops it off by popping in a few pieces of fruit. He also uses asparagus, tied with raffia and tucked into the basket.

“It’s an easy and inexpensive way to decorate with flowers and vegetables, and it’s a fun look for spring,” Mr. Kovar says.

His yard is filled with moss, which he carefully digs up with a hand trowel and tucks in the basket to hide the newspaper and the plastic cups. You could do the same with dried sphagnum moss. Buy it in bags at garden centers and craft shops.

Pansies are arriving every day at garden centers and markets in cold-climate areas. Leave them in their pots and group them together in a low bowl. Primroses are another springtime workhorse that offers the same cheery look in many colors.

“There are so many gorgeous plants and containers. It’s almost like having a temporary art form,” McCreary says. “And, it’s all very doable and very welcoming, especially at this time of year.”

And at this time of year -- when frost and freezing temperatures are still hovering -- having a little indoor garden is just what the plant doctor ordered.

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Nina Koziol gardens on a deer-infested acre southwest of Chicago where her beds and borders are designed for butterflies, hummingbirds and other wildlife. She teaches at the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum. Find out more on her website, This Garden Cooks. Read Nina's previous posts here at Diggin' It by clicking here.

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