The Theme Game: Mini-Gardens Can Be Fun
MAY 27, 2021
I would like you to consider a new component for your garden; perhaps one that will be fun for you and refreshing for your outdoor space. While it’s true that for some of us, gardening is a solitary pleasure, we still welcome appreciative comments on our efforts from our family, neighbors, or friends. With that in mind, consider a new element in your garden, a project that will satisfy you and delight others; how about creating tiny Theme Gardens? The size of these little treasures will depend on your enthusiasm and space. They can be any size, from a small grouping of flowerpots to an entire flower bed or even the entire garden. You may have seen examples of the recent craze for miniature and fairy gardens. In fact, they seem to harken back to the ancient Bonsai container gardens for which trees and other plants are carefully tended to create a landscape in miniature. But, I digress.
A Theme Garden or a group of such gardens might be a way to engage your horticulturally-challenged family and friends in gardening. There are a few ways to do that. If you have children or grandchildren, even neighborhood kids, you might offer them the opportunity to claim a garden. Or, you might create gardens for them and have them guess which is for them and what the themes are; sports, book titles, favorite places. It can be fun to brainstorm ideas with your 12-year-old for a soccer garden. She might use the shells of old soccer balls, planting flowers in them that will bloom in her team’s colors. Or, how about a garden based on a favorite book, Treasure Island for example? A wooden packing box might be transformed into a treasure chest, dripping with jewels and cascading ferns and ivy. The children might make a competition of the gardens, keeping their ideas secret and inviting everyone to guess the theme, sort of a mime game with plants. For the wee folk, how about small pots, each containing a plant for a letter of the alphabet. (No need to do all 26; maybe just the vowels, or the letters of a child’s first name.) The children could paint or draw labels for each plant-letter to be taped to the pot or stuck in the pot on a straw. Expand
If that doesn’t catch on with your younger set, you might want to tax your own creativity and design a mystery theme garden. Invite folks to guess the theme of the garden(s). You could choose a historical period; the Colonial age or medieval times and create a garden filled with plants that would have been common in that period. Another idea is to create an honor garden for someone or some event. Perhaps your parents’ favorite flowers, or a grouping of plants recalling your trip to Italy or Arizona. Instead of a photo album, why not a photo garden? You might laminate copies of some favorite family photos; attach them to ribbons to hang from your crape myrtle tree or placed among the plants on stakes, and build a theme garden around those memories and people. You could harness any of these theme gardens to an educational goal. Encourage kids to see history through the lens of nature and plants. Make biology and botany part of their real-world experiences. Invite young people to consider their heroes in light of the natural world. Even geometry could be explored through miniature gardens—the hexagonal, rhombus, and diamond gardens would be a challenge. And how do you calculate their areas? How much soil is needed?
Okay, now that you’re getting the idea—how about moving beyond the herb garden… What could we do with a burrito garden or a snacks garden? How about that tiny avocado tree you’ve been coaxing from the seed? And what about some heads of iceberg lettuce? Now, cheese may not be feasible, I realize, but perhaps some yellow loosestrife or goldenrod? If you squint they resemble grated or lumps of cheese, don’t you think? And as for a snack garden—baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, radishes, a vine of green beans or peas, even a raspberry bush or a few strawberry plants in a hanging basket…doesn’t that sound tempting?
And, while we’re thinking of food, how about a Native American garden? You might need more room, but the traditional “3 Sisters” garden—corn, beans, and squash—would make for interesting conversations with admirers. Native Americans knew that these three plants completely support each other and those who plant and harvest them. In addition to providing a complete balanced diet, these three plants support each other, literally. The corn stalk supports the pole bean vine; the bean vine pulls nitrogen from the air and into the soil to feed the roots, while the squash vines cover the soil and roots, protecting them from wind and sun damage—wise lessons there for us all. Another type of Native American garden is an apothecary garden. Similar to an herb garden, the apothecary garden contains medicinal plants. (You might include these plants in a Colonial History garden as well.) Rosemary grows well in our climate, and it’s purported to boost one’s memory as well as reduce swelling. Aloe Vera is a familiar and reliable succulent that eases burn pain and helps heal scrapes and cuts. Hardy Valerian, when brewed in tea, helps with relaxation and relieves indigestion. And our sweet, familiar Wooly Lambs Ear is the original band-aid. Soak those fuzzy leaves until they’re soft, then apply them to a cut or scrape. Expand
And finally, my last suggestion, and perhaps my favorite, is a Moon garden. The idea here is to use plants whose variegated leaves and white blossoms reflect the moonlight. The blousy, night-blooming Moonflower and Evening Primrose are two beautiful options. You might want to create your moon garden around your handsome Southern Magnolia, with its stunning white blossoms. Candytuft beneath and a delicate clematis vine winding through the garden would all glimmer in the moonlight.
Whatever theme or themes capture your imagination, I know you’ll have fun expanding on these suggestions. Gardens offer us endless opportunities for reinvention and restoration. This is a spring like none we have enjoyed before. We are all in need of restoration and perhaps reinvention.