How to Win a Garden Contest

Our Best of Show Houseboat Garden from the Seattle Miniature Show, 2006.

Our Best of Show Houseboat Garden from the Seattle Miniature Show, 2006.

How to Win a Garden Contest

By Janit Calvo

Miniature gardening has taken off! It looks like enthusiasts have discovered the “fun-factor” and the planting has begun. But beware! All small-leaf plants are not created equal.

I was recently browsing through old photos for my upcoming new book on Miniature Gardening from Timber Press. And there they were…my early mini garden designs from years ago.

The very first garden made in 2001 grew nicely in part-eastern sun. But when I shrunk the idea to fit into smaller pots, I fell off-course. I had only thought of the color and texture of the garden and not what the plants needed to grow. My designs became temporary instead of sustainable.

I planted Dwarf Mondo Grass that loves damp soil, with ground cover junipers that prefer drier soil. They looked wonderful together but it would never work over time. Where would I place the pot?

I mixed a wee Rose Glow Barberry, a full-sun shrub with gorgeous red foliage, with the chartreuse Miniature Sweet Flag that thrives in shade and moist soil. The color combination was spectacular but I was reminded of that pot issue. It still needed to be put in the right place so the plants could grow properly.

It’s really easy to make artistic gardens without any rules. Young herb and vegetable starts, small perennials and baby annuals make perfect fodder for the miniature garden because everything is so tiny and well… cute.

But what do you get in a few weeks? A big ol’ mess of burnt foliage because of excess sun or rotted roots due to excess water. You also get a pot full of over-grown herbs that take over your mini garden and perennials that fight for root space as they grow into what the plant is supposed to be.

This is what wins contests at shows — breaking the rules to create the “wow factor.” But it’s no contest for busy lives at home. With a little bit of care and nurturing, you can create a sustainable, gorgeous miniature garden that will weave itself together for years.

Join our mailing list to receive your free monthly Mini Garden Gazette newsletter, updates on the new Garden in Miniature book release and to discover the best plants for miniature gardens, seasonal to-dos and just abut anything related to the mini garden world! Less work and more fun… and pretty too!

Another Best of Show Garden from the Seattle Miniature Show, 2005.

Another Best of Show Garden from the Seattle Miniature Show, 2005.


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