NOTE: The photos in this blog are from the Philly Garden Festival in 2014. The Miniature Settings Exhibit has since changed hands, and the quality of the exhibits is apparently very different from what you’ll see here.
The Philadelphia Flower Show is home to the only major Miniature Garden Settings exhibit in the world – and it happens to be one of the most well attended exhibits at the show too. I’m on my way there in March where I will be speaking at the Gardener’s Studio stage on Saturday, March 10th at 2pm, the second Saturday of the show to promote my second book, Gardening in Miniature Prop Shop: Handmade Accessories for Your Tiny Living World.
When I finally saw the gorgeous miniature displays in person last year, I realized it was completely different than the type of miniature gardening that I have taught for well over a decade. I knew it was different, but it wasn’t until I received this email last August that I realized other people didn’t know the difference – even some of the people who are participating in the exhibit.
I have been invited to show in the miniature class in the next Philadelphia Flower show and not too long ago ordered several plants from you. Unfortunately a few of the plants were way too big in scale to be used, one died and another is on its way out. It seemed like a great deal of money and I was sorry I spent it for so little return. I, therefore, will not be ordering from you again and could not, in good conscience, recommend you to anyone else. [Name and location removed]”
Whoa. It’s like I took her $75 and hightailed it to Mexico. Lol! Yea, our type of miniature gardening is well, gardening!
Right plant, right place works for miniature gardens – and all types of gardens, wherever you are and whoever you are. Plants are the great leveler of society, they only care if they did not receive the right growing conditions, and not money, nor fame, nor status – nor any nasty email – can change that.
This poor woman spent almost $75 on a Slowmound Mugo Pine, Dwarf Hens and Chicks, Mini Sweet Flag, Gemstone Hinoki Cypress and Piccolo Balsam Fir that included the Tansu Cryptomeria and Jersey Jewel Japanese Holly. Had she asked if any of these plants were ideal for her project, I would have cautioned her about how to use them – and the fact that they are outdoor plants would be first on my list.
And what she didn’t notice is that all the pot sizes are mentioned in the text and shown in the photo with my hand as a reference to the size of the plants.
I hope she didn’t plant these all together because would be a disaster: The mugo pine and hens and chicks are outdoor plants, love full sun and drier, well-draining soil. The Mini Sweet Flag prefers wet soil, shade and can be grown indoors and the rest are outdoor plants, prefer evenly damp soil and part sun/shade.
All these differences and growing details are always mentioned in each listing underneath the multiple photos of each plant in our online store.
Thankfully, I’m from “the east coast” and knew that it was just a misunderstanding, albeit an irritating one. I wrote her back explaining the difference, included some references and wished her luck in the exhibit.
But despite my compassion for teaching and sharing the joy of gardening in miniature for almost two decades, I’m human and the email did ruffle my feathers a bit. I haven’t stayed in business for over 18 years by supplying the nation with miniature plants that don’t work. I didn’t fill the bestselling book on the hobby, Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World, with false pretenses and nor did the world’s top horticultural publisher, Timber Press, print a book filled with wrong information. Why did she jump to such radical conclusions? Because people hate being wrong.
So, Janit, What is the Diff?
Dr. K of the Miniature Garden Settings exhibit blog has put together a database of the plants used in the exhibit. It’s a work in progress and she has about 300 plants listed so far. I’ve scanned through the list and yes, there are plants that we use that can last for years in our miniature gardens but majority of the plants aren’t for our type of gardening in miniature.
The exhibit is only supposed to last for about two weeks and sometimes the plants have to be switched out either due to being too stressed out because they are growing in abnormal conditions, or they are growing too fast.
Here are some observations on their techniques and examples of plants that won’t work for a long-lasting miniature garden. I imagine the artists have many more and I look forward to learning more from them.
Miniature Settings Exhibit Techniques
– Over-planted: Almost all the displays are deliberately over-planted to look lush and full.
– Temporary: It is not planted as a garden that is meant to stay together for years like we do. It’s only meant to last the for the show.
– Mixing Plants: The artists plant indoor with outdoor plants, light loving with shade loving because, again, the display does not have to last long.
– Fast Growing: Ground covers and rockery plants are a favorite because they can be grown quickly and the young plants add color and texture to the miniature setting-scene. Examples: Lamium, Veronica Speedwell, Candy Tuft, Pileas – all plants that I would NOT recommend for the real miniature garden because they are too fast growing.
– Young starts: A number of the plants are really young babies that we’re grown for this purpose only. Plants are swapped out during the show if they get too big. The artists have more plants growing behind that wall for this very reason. Here’s more…
Miniature Settings Exhibit Plants Explained
– Seedlings, Starts and Young Plants: The exhibitors cultivate plant starts, or use very young plants that mimic full-sized garden plants. The leaves and stem are usually the perfect size and the variety of textures look fantastic in the wee garden beds – but it’s not going to last. Examples: Polka Dot plant, Kalanchoe, Creeping Jenny, Catnip, Lavender, Rosemary, Sorrel and even culinary Thyme is suggested as a miniature plant. All these plants will grow up within one growing season and will not stay miniature.
– Unusual Plants: Depending upon the topic of the scene, some of the plants listing in the database are plants that have surreal look, instead of being an ideal plant for a miniature garden, regular-sized Aloe and the Living Stones (Lithops) for example. Bog-loving plants, like the Bog Rosemary are listed – I would not grow a miniature garden in a bog. And fragile plants or plants that are fussy to grow are not on my list of favorites either simply because life is too short to fuss, examples are the Maidenhair Fern and the Mimosa.
I hope I have cleared up some misconceptions about the different kinds of miniature garden plants used in this fabulous display at the Philly Show – and I hope the display is still fabulous under this new management. It is much different than real miniature gardening if you take the time to notice, unlike our friend who wrote the nasty email to me.
If you have any further questions or comments, please leave them below. I would be glad to know what I have missed.
Come and see my talk and demo at the show! I’m on at 2pm, Saturday, March 10th, 2018, at the Gardeners Studio Stage. Here’s the PHS website for the show, I’m not sure when they’ll have the event calendar done.
Join us – but only if you want to know more about “real” miniature gardening! Sign up for our Mini Garden Gazette newsletter to get in on the fun here.
Hi! Thanks for this column. I never would have thought about the difference. Actually your title intrigued me because I had no idea what you might be telling us. I hope you have cleared the air and maybe feel a little better too.
Break a leg at the show!
As a retailer, I admire you for posting that complaint. It’s great to see that we all get them, though we do our best. Confusion and miscommunication happen, and we just need to do our best to explain the facts while soothing feathers. (I’m in the midst of a similar situation and it is upsetting, even if you know you did right by them). Btw, I teach separate classes on indoor miniature gardening and outdoor, and always explain the difference very clearly. I’m a big fan of temporary too. People fall in love with an array of plants, so I tell them to be prepared to switch some of these things out, because certain combinations are just not meant to be in this garden for long! Thanks for all you sharing of expertise!
Great article, hopefully it will help to explain the difference between a garden and an exhibit. I feel that sometimes we gardeners (both miniature and life size) fall in love with a how a plant looks and ignore that pesky little tag, you know the one that lists size, light, water. Thank you for taking the time to help explain.
[Edited out the PHS politics and name calling…- Janit]
We had an overwhelming response to enter this years show, half again as many people, as we have room for wanted to enter. Many of them are past blue ribbon winners from more than 5 years ago. I think that you will find the 2018 show extraordinarily beautiful.
As you said, it is not meant to be a miniature garden, But a display that lasts only a couple of weeks.
In the Horticulture division of the show there is a class for miniature gardens. judges on three days, class 2408, 3408,4408. They are more like the what you do.
Thanks, Bev Palaia
this is helpful for me just getting started with researching miniature plants. i have found only a couple resources online so far. thanks for explaining the differences between the show plants and the actually hearty garden plants.