LYNDA HALLINAN: it’s a small world
Tiny houses are all the rage in sustainable home design, so why not tiny gardens too? Lynda Hallinan finds that good things often do come in small packages.
Honey, I shrunk the garden! I’m sure my husband would be delighted if I suddenly announced that I was downsizing our large country garden for a compact courtyard or petite patio – no more lawns to mow, hedges to clip, trees to prune and DIY projects to build. But when your appetite for gardening is as gluttonous as mine, that’s never going to happen.
I have, however, been experimenting with Lilliputian indoor landscapes of late. Everything looks cute when it’s small, according to American fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, and who can argue with that? My miniature tabletop gardens and terrariums make me smile every time I see them, which isn’t always true of the blooming beds and burgeoning borders around our farmhouse, where I haul out weeds by the trailerload rather than with a pair of tweezers.
I’ve never had the patience for building ships in bottles – how could you not sweat the small stuff when you’re fiddling about with such finicky craft projects? – but I’ve spent hours pimping, preening and maintaining my miniature gardens and it never feels like a chore. The basic tools? A toothbrush (for sweeping up soil spills), teaspoon (for shovelling sand and potting mix), sugar cube tongs (for precision positioning) and nail scissors (in place of secateurs). A misting bottle is also a musthave for keeping all the wee plants trapped inside a terrarium in good nick.
Glass bowl terrariums have been trendy for a while now, and local houseplant nurseries can’t keep up with the demand for architectural foliage plants such as Monstera deliciosa and string-of-pearls (Senecio rowleyanus). But for most of us, this newfound captivation for all things great and small actually dates back to childhood.
As a kid, who wasn’t fascinated by itsy-bitsy, teenyweeny, pocket-sized replicas of the real thing, from Matchbox cars to remote-controlled train sets, shoebox dioramas, pixie gardens and diminutive doll’s houses?
Think back to your very first garden: I’d be willing to bet it was either a hollowed-out eggshell sown with cress seed at kindergarten, a grass-haired pantyhose ball with boggly plastic eyes and potting mix for a brain, or a potted sunflower or spud-in-a-bucket grown at primary school.
Although my gardening ambitions have grown like topsy since my first garden – an old concrete washing tub outside my bedroom window – I still get a kick out of small but perfectly formed landscapes, such as the tortured Corokia ‘Silver Ghost’ bonsai on my potting bench. This nifty native shrub is a popular hedge plant, its zigzagging stems and tiny leaves tinged with silver, but with judicious clipping it also looks groovy as a tiny tree in a shallow bowl underplanted with wild moss foraged from the rock wall that runs the length of our tree-lined driveway.
Last spring my family spent a fortnight visiting friends in Phoenix, Arizona, where, as you might expect, we saw more than our share of cacti and succulents. We visited the city’s stunning Desert Botanical Garden, a 140-acre public park that pays horticultural homage to the diversity of droughttolerant plants.
There were crazy cacti with prickly paddles reminiscent of Mickey Mouse ears, armourplated sausage stems and barrel-shaped bellies studded with spines everywhere I looked (and at the Desert Botanical Garden, it pays to keep a close eye on the gardens at all times, lest you accidentally step into a spiky border in your sandals). And yet, amid that spiky spectacle, it was a little bonsai that caused me to laugh out loud, because one of the staff had hung a wee Lego tyre swing from its wizened branches.
On our return to New Zealand, I was inspired to add a tyre swing to my own bonsai tree and, while fossicking through my children’s toy box, I also pocketed a couple of their plastic dinosaurs to tuck into my hanging terrariums. “Look!” I said to the kids when I was done. “It’s a pintsized Jurassic Park!”
My Jurassic patio mightn’t have the blockbuster appeal of Chris Pratt swooning about on a Hollywood film set but, horticulturally speaking at least, it’s no less winsome. In fact, it reminds me of one of the snippets of self-help advice in former adman H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s pocket-size best-seller, Life’s Littl→e Instruction Book. “Think big thoughts,” he said, “but relish small pleasures.”
CUTE AND GROOVY