Miniature Gardens: Formal Layouts

THE possibilities of the formal type of miniature garden have not yet been fully appreciated, except by those who have seen the wonderful creations of Miss Anne Ashbery, who specializes in this kind of work. Some may object that it is too artificial, but if the miniature garden itself is situated in formal surroundings, I can see no valid reason why its own layout should not follow suit.

Formal layouts afford almost unlimited scope for artistic creation, and once again I shall do no more than suggest a few ideas in the hope that they will stimulate original lines of thought. There is no reason why almost every feature of our full-sized gardens should not be reproduced on a small scale. With a careful choice of plants, such things as rose gardens, iris gardens, paved gardens and herbaceous borders may all be achieved within the compass of a few square feet, but in order to obtain the most pleasing effects it is better not to attempt anything too elaborate in the way of design.

Appropriate Containers

To start with, it is desirable to choose an appropriate type of container, which should itself be of a formal character. The ancient trough or sink, hewn out of rough stone, while eminently suited to the miniature rock garden, looks out of place in conjunction with the strictly formal layout. Here the artificial concrete trough, and on a larger scale the brick enclosure, come into their own. Circular containers are also very suitable for such things as miniature rose and iris gardens, though even an 18-in. Pan would be rather out of scale with the plants. Occasionally, however, one comes across a larger type of earthenware vessel. I remember finding one at a sale before the war, about the size and shape of the old-fashioned kitchen ‘copper’, with a drainage hole in the bottom. In this I laid out a miniature rose garden, with a circular path following the perimeter, and other paths radiating from the centre so as to form the beds for the dwarf roses.

In the more usual rectangular container, the double flower border may be made the basis of an attractive design, which can be elaborated according to the space at one’s disposal. In the smaller of the two brick enclosures mentioned earlier, I had miniature herbaceous borders running the full length of each of the longer sides, with paved paths and a formal pool in the centre, and a ‘Noah’s Ark’ juniper at each corner. The pool, which was of rather intricate design, was precast in a wooden mould, in the same way as I have recommended for making concrete troughs, and painted light green on the inside. For a plain circular pool, however, it is simpler to use a glass or pottery dish, which may either be left in its natural state or coated inside with cement.


Paths may be made either of gravel, cement or flat stones, laid in the form of crazy-paving. For the garden mentioned above, which was a fairly large one, I made cement flagstones by casting them in the smallest matchboxes obtainable, but in smaller gardens even these would be rather too large to be in scale. In this case it is only necessary to scoop out shallow trenches where the paths are to be, and to pour the cement directly into these, afterwards scribing lines on the surface, just before it has set hard, to simulate the joints between the slabs.

An Attractive Layout

One of the most attractive miniature layouts I have seen was made by a relative of mine on the edge of his lawn. It consisted entirely of evergreens —mown grass, clipped hedges and dwarf conifers—and the effect was entrancing. Strictly speaking, it does not come within my definition of a miniature garden, as it is not enclosed in any way, and although dwarf in stature it occupies a good deal of ground space. But it has given me the idea, which I hope some day to carry out, of making a miniature enclosed garden in a trough, with a central grass court intersected by flagged paths and bounded by evergreen hedges. Even without a single flower, I think it could be very attractive.


I have not yet tried grass in a miniature garden, but I see no reason why one should not have a lawn on a small scale. For this purpose it would be desirable to procure a strip of the finest downland turf, and to lay it on a foundation of poor, sandy soil, to prevent too lush a growth. It could be mown with a safety-razor drawn in alternate directions, to simulate the striped ‘pile’ left by the mowing-machine.

Artificial Adornments

In the matter of artificial embellishments, slightly more latitude is permissible in the garden of formal design than in the miniature rock garden. After all, we are only reproducing in miniature something that is itself largely artificial, but even so considerable restraint should be exercised in deciding what to include besides plants. Perhaps the best guide is to consider what man-made objects you would like to see in your own full-sized garden, and to exclude all else from the miniature layout. In my own case, this results in the banishment of summer-houses, rustic bridges, trellis-work and all similar structures, but if you like these things in full-scale by all means have them in miniature. Miniature Garden Ornaments

In many formal designs some form of ornament is required at a focal-point, such as the junction of several paths in the centre of a rose garden, for example. In this case I see no objection to the use of small bronze or stone figures, so long as it is quite clear that these are miniature statues and not intended to imitate human beings. But I need hardly say that gnomes, frogs, toads and similar grotesqueries should be excluded from every garden, whatever its size.

24. May 2017 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: New Gardens, Sink Gardens, Small Gardens | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Miniature Gardens: Formal Layouts


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: