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Miniature gardens with a big impact | Life and style

Just a few short years ago, the idea of shrinking down an idealised landscape into a table-top tray would have been seen as the height of twee and about as relevant as pastel doilies and porcelain doves. However, in an ever more uncertain world, it seems our increasing desire for an escapist outlet and a feeling of being in control has seen this 1930s trend reincarnated, albeit in cooler, more nuanced ways.

Gone are the tiny garden benches, wishing wells and clothes lines, and in their place are more rugged, naturalistic landscapes of mosses and rocks, dotted with ferns and miniature trees. A perfect way to potter around the rolling hills of your country estate, even if the plot you have is no bigger than a dinner plate. So, if you are tempted to try it yourself, here are my favourite plants for a modern take on miniature gardens, indoors and out.

A thin-leaved lemon cypress in an earthenware pot

A thin-leaved lemon cypress. Photograph: Alfio Scisetti/Alamy

If you have a sunny spot outdoors, alpine plants are perfect options. Hailing from rugged mountaintops, these species have evolved low, ground-hugging forms and tiny leaves to withstand the extreme weather, plus shallow root systems to thrive in thin, rocky soils, which means they will not only look the part, but will easily handle the moisture and temperature extremes that can happen in such small and shallow containers.

For a perfect mossy lawn, I love Scleranthus biflorus – Australian astroturf – with its emerald green leaves that are only 1mm long. For a softer, fuzzier look, try Scotch moss Sagina subulata with its 5mm long leaves. This gives you a more relaxed feel.

If you are after flowers, the blue star creeper Isotoma fluviatilis will kick out a sea of small, blue, star-shaped flowers that look like cake decorations.

Thin-leaved conifers, such as the lemon cypress Cupressus macrocarpa or dwarf spruce Picea glauca make really convincing, easy-to-grow tiny trees. Wrapping a little bonsai wire around their branches will mean you can position these in any shape you want.

If your spot is shady, you get to play with wonderful miniature hostas with names like Frosted Mouse Ears and Mini Skirt, which will look great over a lush green ground cover of baby’s tears Soleirolia soleirolii. Fancy some soft ferniness? It doesn’t get any better than brass buttons Leptinella squalida, which make perfect bedfellows with a coniferous canopy of moon frost hemlock Tsuga canadensis.

If you have no garden at all, you could easily grow a miniature forest of small-leaved Ficus ‘Natasja’ over a sea of creeping Pilea depressa or super-dwarf Ficus pumila ‘Quercifolia minima’. A few tufts of the tiny grass Acorus gramineus might involve some online hunting to track down, but will really set it off a treat.

If you want to lose yourself for hours in a paradise of your own creation, miniature landscapes really are the most easy and affordable way.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek

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