How to Win a Miniature Contest with a Miniature Garden
Two Best of Shows, one 2nd Place, one 3rd Place and two Honorable Mentions – I could have sworn I have a 1st Place ribbon around here to complete the collection! Drat. I’ll have to enter again next year and be good, but not too good.
But, here’s how we do it. (Click on the pictures to zoom, use your back button to go back to the blog.)
1. Do something completely different. If you don’t know what to do – go to the show and poke around for the miniaturists who document the show, hopefully there pictures posted online somewhere for you to see. There’s a good chance that a living miniature garden has never been done before.
2. Pick a theme. It can be a play on words – this one called “A Miniature Hobby Farm” as a play on the miniature hobby. Or, it can be something to celebrate locally, like this Miniature Houseboat and Garden that won Best of Show years ago that we chose because it was sooo very Seattle.
3. Make it involved. If it’s a dollhouse or a garden, create a human presence by placing accessories where you would have them in “real-life.” A pot of rocks overturned, the rake is left out from the last weeding and the hat is thrown on the chair. It creates an air of mystery because you can see the story, but the characters are gone. Some people like dolls in the scene, but for a contest, the dolls have be really good quality to win a contest – really good and no Barbies. You can substitute small plants for the real thing and get away with it – the individual Hen and Chick plants look like cabbages in the vegetable bed.
4. Stay with one main scale but play with it when you can. Here, we made a miniature garden for the miniature garden. The Mini Patio Mix Kit holds the tiniest of pebbles in place with the least amount of effort. Tiny Sedum rootings make the perfect plant, 1/4″ scale garden art completes the 2″ wide miniature garden.
5. Use the real thing. The beauty of a miniature garden is that most of it can be real. When we hauled this garden out of the show last month, one surprised miniaturist said, “That’s real water!” Yep, it is and it’s easier to do than the clear resin that the dollhouse miniaturists use. It’s also fun to watch the miniaturists poke their finger in the water to test to see if it’s resin or not. Use real straw for the chicken coop, real rocks for boulders, branches for logs, etc.
6. Create vignettes anywhere you can without overdoing it. There would be a bunch of tools and hose somewhere in the garden anyway so grouping them together (like we do in the full-size world) it gives you a chance to create a mini scene within the garden. Normally, we would comb through the topsoil to take out the pieces of vermiculite but we thought it added to the country charm. Mushroom compost makes a miniature mulch – or sift potting soil down in a colander to get a mini mulch too.
6. Animals help a lot. They add life to the scene and those little critters go straight to the heart of the judge. With the hobby farm theme, we delightfully used any animal we could – without going overboard, that is. Everybody had their place though. The dog didn’t chase the chickens nor the rabbits. The turtle stayed by the pond, the sheep was in the back field…
7. Use miniature garden art that is appropriate to your theme. A garden gnome suits the country theme to a tee. That’s the back of the fairy house to the right. Scale is critical in a miniature contest and the judges will get the ruler out so no compromises! It’s the main criteria for this type of contest.
8. Create another dimension. It’s a miniature fairy house for the miniature garden. You can’t see the stepping stones that lead up to it but it sure is charming! The fairy house is placed around to the back of the pot. Miniaturists really love to take in all the little details so provide those details for them. Note the mossy pile of bricks to the left.
9. Use all sides. We placed a sheep in “the back forty,” meaning the backside of the garden. Placing rewards for the viewers who look carefully at every detail – as would a miniature judge – increases the experience of viewing the garden. Don’t hesitate to create another place to sit that is hidden from the front. You can have a lot of fun with this but keep it in scale and make the tiny scene have a purpose, like you would in a full-scale garden.
10. Get more detailed. Place little critters in the scene where they would naturally be. A dish with a couple of apples. (Cotoneaster berries!) A hanging basket full of greenery. As long as it’s put in place without over-crowding – AND it looks realistic – use it to your advantage.
11. Creating layers in the garden will create the story. Not only is it a garden with “huge” trees and plantings, it has a vegetable garden, a cute patio area, a chicken coop and a pond area. As the viewer looks into the garden, the story unravels.
12. Add natural elements. Use rocks and small logs in and around the garden as you would see in the country. They can instantly create a sense of permanence to the garden like nothing else can. Snuggle the “boulders” behind trees, nest the “logs” off to the side of the garden and place stumps as if they were cut down to clear the land for planting.
Placement at the show. Ask the show promoter how your exhibit will be seen. If you have some details going on in the back, consider putting your garden on a turntable if your garden is displayed against a wall. (Find heavy duty turntables at your local hardware store.) If you are wary of some kid spinning the display too fast and wrecking it, note that miniature shows are for adults, not kids. There should be someone overseeing the exhibit area at all times but ask the show organizer if you are wary.
Like this? Then you’ll love our newsletters, the world’s only Mini Garden Gazette – it’s FREE and it’s monthly. Join us here.