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.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.”



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