A miniature garden that fits in a dish

Imagine a garden you can carry in two hands. Best of all, a child can make one. Of course, we're talking about a dish garden.

Between summer's end, when the garden is put to bed, and Christmas is a good time to introduce the children of the family or neighborhood to the art of making these small gardens.

A dish garden makes a splendid gift for a large or small house. It takes up little room, demands hardly any care, and if it dries up or the plants outgrow the dish, it is expendable.

The tiny, colorful garden adapts well to an office or any room in the house. It will fit into small spots in the living room, and is especially suitable for remembering that cousin or friend who lives in a mobile home and where only a perfect gem can find space for display.

I am not thinking about dish gardens made with named miniature or dwarf plants bought in a plant shop or nursery. I mean those purely "for fun" gardens made with small "found" plants that many of us have made and loved since childhood.

No one needs to bother about names here; however, in your own area you probably know at least most of the common names -- but if not, it won't matter in the least.

These tiny gardens may not be quite as lasting as the ones made of more serious stuff, and they cannot be counted on to be permanent. Yet each garden can be beautiful and individual. Also, these small wildlings can sometimes surprise us by being quite durable.

The best place to look for the minuscule plants will be in protected spots along the edge of the wod, under fence rows, beside a creek -- even along the perimeter of the yard or garden.

Here you find mossy rocks, tiny twigs of deadwood to use for gnarled trees (very choice for a dish garden), or sometimes you may discover 3-inch evergreen trees (seedlings) around which the composition can be built.

Don't overlook the mosses. They grow in many shapes and ways, can be used for grass, and if you look closely, they even bloom.

One bit of business, almost as important as gathering material for the gardens, is the walk in the winter woods -- the real, and sometimes first, look at small close-to-the-ground growing things.

Big happiness in small people will run in all directions.

Before taking off on the foraging trip the idea must be readied in advance with some buildup -- and maybe even a bit of happy salesmanship. The one leading the expedition must certainly be well acquainted with miniature gardening. It's even advisable to have already made several of them so as to show the children how they actually look.

Each child in preparation will be on the lookout for a suitable dish in which to build his garden.

Since it does not require drainage (although it doesn't hurt to have it), it can be almost any kind of dish so long as it is no deeper than 3 inches. A bowl , baking dish, cake pan, flat ceramic pot, or even a casserole that has lost its lid will be fine.

Look in yard sales, antique shops, rummage sales, or in the home cupboard where it's possible a dish could be spared, particularly if it seemed especially right.

Another necessary item to collect and have ready will be rocks for the "bones of the landscape" -- and (very important) they must fit inside the dish. It's better to have several small rocks than one large one to allow the soil and plants to be worked into pockets around them.

Each child should bring a basket or shoe box in which to carry his findings, and also some small plastic bags so that each plant can have its own. Put a little home soil in each bag.

To plant the garden in the dish, cover the bottom with small shards and pebbles -- and then fit the rocks into the dish, leaving pockets where the soil will go. Securely wedge in the deadwood twigs or set in the evergreen seedlings where trees are wanted in the design. Last, set the plants, one by one, into the pockets, using a small trowel or spoon (and neat fingers).

Complete the project by filling in the soil around them.

Sometimes it's fun to use a small mirror in the scene to make a lake. Add one or two tiny ceramic or wooden creatures to live in the garden -- or even to swim in the lake. Everything must be in scale; in other words, small enough to look natural.

It's best not to crowd everything into one garden. One or two figures in the landscape usually will be enough.

As soon as the plants are in place, water the garden carefully with a small dropper or teaspoon, being sure not to overwater.

The garden should be finished at least a week before Christmas since the children need to be satisfied that the plants are settled nicely into their new home.

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