For Fairy Gardens: Miniature and Fine-Leaved Plants

Ilona Erwin

Leaves come in all shapes and sizes, and one of the ways landscapers describe the visual impact of leaf size is “texture”. Surface texture of plants is made up of the combination of leaf size and how open or “airy” the plant may be in structure.

Let’s look at those plants that are “fine” in texture and those that are compact in shape.

There are several cases where a gardener might like to have a list of plants that have a miniature growth pattern or look. One that I can think of right away is when making a Fairy Garden. Rock gardens are miniature landscapes, and that was where I first investigated the plant choices to give a pint-sized view of a landscape that mirrors one in the macro-environment. The Japanese are famous for their dwarf plants and techniques, and often utilize them for just such a purpose… your garden becomes “the mountains”, “the seaside”, pond, tea, or paradise gardens.

Slow-growing plants make the most satisfactory miniature gardens because they won’t so easily outgrow the space allotted them to overpower the miniature furnishings and the neighboring small plants. Look for plants that are called “dwarf” or “miniature”, and the Latin name “minimus” will clue you to smaller plants.

You may expect plants called “dwarfs” to grow 1″ to 6″ annually and those called “miniature” to grow less than 1″ each year.

Suggested plants may be used in any of the types of gardens listed here

Borrowing from Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens do not consist of just one style, but many. The Japanese gardens are put together in a way that follow certain aesthetic rules, each style having a different tradition to guide its construction. We may not use these rules for a Fairy garden, but we may certainly borrow their miniature and dwarf plants.

Plant materials common to Japanese gardens are azaleas, Hinoki cypress, pines, bamboo, ginko, maple, and cherry trees. Many of these have dwarf, miniature, and fine-leaved forms.

Choice Dwarf Tree and Shrubs

Lace leaf Japanese maple, ‘Red Dragon’
Hardy to USDA zone 5, slightly acid pH, part sun to full sun
Azalea ‘B. Henry’s Dwarf’
Acid soils, loves moisture, part sun
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’
Zones: 3-8, cultivation details for Hinoki cypress

Modern Fairy Gardens

The modern fairy gardens are very popular today. Often grown in containers, the use of miniature and fine leaf plants creates the effect of a tiny world, which might be populated with small garden ornaments. Or left to the imagination, the inhabitants of invisible fairy people could be lured with tiny chairs and accessories.

Children especially enjoy the making of a fairy garden.

Miniature and Fine Leafed Plants

Many varieties of thyme have very tiny leaves and flowers on their carpeting stems.
The offshoots of “Hens and Chicks” (use the chick size) can be accent plants or potted in tiny containers for< the fairy’s own garden.
Dwarf evergreens and trees using bonsai techniques could be planted into a fairy garden display.
Miniature Sweet Flag
Regular sweet flag would overwhelm the spaces, but the miniature form is just the right fit.
Bellium minutum
Miniature daisy plants are darling. Hardy in USDA zones 6-9, fine for a container sheltered in protection over winter, otherwise treat as an annual in cold climates
Looking for Bonsai Plant source? Bonsai Trees Under $30

In Rock Gardens

Rock gardens have been a fascination of many especially since Victorian times. Made to mimic an alpine environment, many of the plants chosen represent places where mountain winds and harsh conditions dwarf the plant life. Small and fine leaf plants are often chosen to give this look, and to accompany the rocks which are major elements in these gardens.
Which plants to start out your rock garden?

Elfin Thyme
Any of the thyme plants are good, even a carpet of several, but this one is very fine leaved.
A very dwarf Chamaecypress
Look for ‘Jean Iseli’ or ‘Golden Sprite’ and Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’
Miniature Boxwood
Buxus microphylla japonica generally, especially ‘Morris Midget’
Baby Gem Boxwood
Dwarf Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’
A very dwarf Alberta Spruce variety
Pixie dwarf Alberta spruce, Picea glauca ‘Pixie’

Foliage Contrasts

There are times when plants are combined to give a contrast. This is one of the basic design methods for a landscape that is interesting to look at and plays up the plants to full effect. Color is one contrast, but texture is another, maybe more important one. Any of the fine leaf plants could be combined with any of a medium or coarse texture, but here are some suggested pairings to try out for your own garden.

Plant Pairings for Contrast

 These are just ideas. Trial miniature plants within your fairy garden.

Group Variegated Hostas
Hosta ‘Mighty Mouse’ (cream and green) and ‘Cracker Crumbs’ (golden foliage) hosta
Tiny Leaves, Purple Flowers and Rosy Foliage
Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’ and Heuchera LITTLE CUTIE ‘Ginger Snap’
Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’ and Adonis amurensis ‘Fukujukai’
Purple and Gold Flower combo
Campanula Blue and mini Hosta
Campanula poscharskyana ‘Camgood’ and Hosta ‘Mighty Mouse’
Baby Ferns and Rue anemone
Anemonella thalictroides ‘Shiozaki’ and Adiantum venustum

I hope you liked these ideas for including a section of miniature plants in either your indoor or outdoor garden. When coming upon plant ideas be sure to look at the growing information for an individual plant. This includes climate zones (when growing outdoors) and pH soil conditions.

A designated space for a Fairie-sized garden spot ensures that the plantings aren’t overshadowed and crowded out by larger, more vigorous plants.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.