Miniature Gardening on a Grand Scale

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My name is Lori Herlin, and I live on a 4.75-acre lot on the side of a mountain in Asheville, North Carolina. I retired here from Houston seven years ago. I was an avid gardener in Houston for 30 years but had a lot to learn about a very different climate that actually has four seasons and how to garden on a very steep slope. It took awhile to find shoes with good enough traction that I was not sliding downhill most of the time. Our lot was mostly wild forest with a small amount of landscaping along the driveway when we purchased it.

I spent the first four years landscaping the hill above the driveway up to the road and downhill below the house. We put in trails that zigzagged down the side of the mountain through our lot. I have three major park areas that I landscaped that are out on the trails as well. The trails and parks are decorated with some of my concrete projects as well as purchased statues. I switched from bronze casting to concrete for my sculptures because the larger outdoor scale made bronze casting cost-prohibitive. I have a life-size baby black bear in concrete in one of the parks.

For the last three years I focused my energy on a new project along the driveway that I call my Miniature Bonsai Garden. It combines the hobbies I brought with me from Houston of gardening and sculpture with a new bonsai hobby I picked up in Asheville. My new garden is 100 feet long and contains bonsai trees in training, flowering ground covers, succulents, and other small plants, as well as mosaic patios, small brick retaining walls, tile planter boxes (all built in my studio over the winter), tile sidewalks, and a stream made of rocks and concrete. 

The miniature garden has evolved from experience and problem solving over the last two years and is currently in its third growing season.

slope with retaining walls in fallHere’s the “before” shot of the space that would become the miniature garden.

slope after landscaping and new plantsAnd here is the “after” shot. Look closely at the plantings all along the front; they are miniature landscapes, with the small shrub being trained as a bonsai.

mini garden with tiny path and mini seating areasThe miniature garden even has a mini-sidewalk and a tree swing.

mini stream running through mini gardenA tiny water feature runs through the mini-landscape. The shrubs are Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’ (Zones 4–8), or a similar cultivar, that have been pruned up to reveal their trunks and make them look like miniature trees.

mini garden with mini arbor and mini courtyardIn this detail from the miniature garden, I particularly love the tiny vine-covered arbor!

mini garden with mini path winding through bonsai treesI love how the landscape works on two levels. In a wide view, the larger landscape works as a whole, and when you look closer, you can take in all the miniature details.

mini chairs and table next to mini pondA little seating area for tiny garden visitors on the mosaic tile patio

bonsai trees growing in the groundTraditionally bonsai are grown in containers, not in the ground, but the techniques can be translated to a wide range of situations. Wire wrapped around the trunks allows each branch to be positioned exactly where you want it to create a treelike effect in the garden.

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