Make a Refreshing Dish Garden

Edited by Nerissa Avisado, Robbi, Lynn, Zornitsa Bukovska and 6 others


Dish gardens are a wonderful way to celebrate the great outdoors and enjoy them in miniature form. These small bits of diverse greenery bring beautiful areas of interest in the home or the workplace. The advantage of growing and using dish gardens to provide indoor greenery is that they occupy very little space. If you live in a small apartment or have no more than a desk to yourself in the office, you will see the wisdom of opting for a dish garden rather than a big ficus.
Over the years, more and more people have indulged in dish gardening as a hobby. Because of this growing popularity, supplies for dish gardens have become very easy to find. The customary wide-mouthed, shallow containers are now found even in discount stores, and they come in interesting sizes, shapes and designs. Along with containers, most gardening supply stores will carry small accessories that brand your dish garden its own unique character.

If you are seriously thinking of making a dish garden of your own, you will be pleased to know that there is a lot of material you can read to give you all the information you need. For a trial run, read on and follow step-by-step directions for your first project.

Types of Dish Gardens to Choose From

Dish gardens contain various plants aesthetically arranged in dish like containers. Unlike regular pots, these containers do not have drainage holes. Instead, the bottom of the container is covered with as much as gravel as needed so that plants are not waterlogged.

Dish gardens are called by many names, usually according to the type of arrangement the gardener has seen fit to grow. Magazines contain pictures of miniature European gardens, cactus gardens, desert, foliage, bonsai, and Zen gardens. For each of these types there are different kinds of containers, accessories and plants. It is good to know what type of garden you can attempt for your project.

  1. 1
    European Garden. This type of dish garden is often full of flowers that are easy to prune. Some of the popular plants for European style dish gardens include begonias, azaleas, some hardy ferns, and philodendrons. This can be a bit of a challenge.
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  2. 2
    Cactus Garden. As the name suggests, this garden is a composition that makes full use of the variations in size, shape, and texture of cacti and succulents. A cactus garden can be designed like a dessert with a layer of white sand and just a few cacti that show off their strong clean lines, or bursting with green and silver specimens. This is a very viable project for a beginner. If you like cacti then this might be right for you.
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  3. 3
    Desert Garden. This is very similar to a cactus garden except that it very clearly depicts a desert theme. This is quite easy to achieve and it also makes use of cacti which need little care. If you are worried about thorns, pick a variety that has none or look for thorn free aloes that fit into the theme.
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  4. 4
    Foliage Garden. A miniature foliage garden makes use of plants with variegated leaves, extraordinary shapes, or dramatic textures. As it is with other types of dish gardens, the foliage garden can contain as many ornaments as the gardener chooses. A foliage garden is not as easy to plant as a cactus garden but if you like foliage, ask your nursery for hardy plants that will live comfortable in a dish.
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  5. 5
    Bonsai Garden. This garden has one or several bonsai trees as its main feature. This can be a very striking dish garden and many hobbyists will compose a complete landscape around the bonsais, complete with house and animals. A garden with an authentic bonsai is a rather delicate project. Instead, you might try using small woody plants with bonsai-like characteristics. You can use these as the focal point of your garden and add the other plants or structures to complete your composition.
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  6. 6
    Zen Garden. Most Zen dish gardens will contain only a few plants and will rely on design to create balance, serenity and dynamic calm even within such a miniature environment. A Zen garden can be a very feasible first project. Look for plants that will be appropriate for this design, study some models, and you will be good to go.
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Dish Garden Containers You Can Use

Containers for dish gardens no longer follow the usual flat dish of the past. Today anything can hold a dish garden, for as long as it is shallow and wide enough to accommodate a garden design. Wooden boxes, baskets, ceramic figurines, rocks, and large pieces of wood are now used almost as often as the standard pot. If you have an interesting piece of crockery, an old tray, or a pretty tureen you want to use, go ahead and look for the right design and the right plants to start your project. Just don't forget that there shouldn't be a drainage hole in your container. If there is, either plug it up or settle a piece of plastic over the hole.

The container you choose will depend on the type of garden you want to create. European gardens will go well with a wide range of containers" from baskets to swans to old copper kettles. Bonsai gardens and Zen gardens need simpler dishes that will not clash with the sometimes austere look of both types.

Soil and Drainage Preparation

Before you start actually planting your dish garden, consider the soil you need for your project. You need soil that will drain well but will hold enough moisture to nourish the plants. This is one instance when you do not need very fertile soil since the last thing you want is for the plants in your garden to develop too quickly and outgrow the arrangement you created.

Water and Sunlight Needs

You need to determine the amount of water and sunlight your garden will need. A cactus garden or a desert garden will need at least partial sun, but will thrive in full sun as well. A tropical garden or a foliage garden might need less sunlight. Tropical gardens with ferns and caladium do best with indirect lighting. Ask the nursery what the water and sunlight requirements of your plants are, and remember to put together plants that have the same needs.

Making Your Own Dish Garden

After you have chosen the type of garden you want to create, the next thing you have to do is gather all your materials, including your plants. Once this is done, you can buckle down to work.

  1. 1
    Gather your materials. These will include the following:  
    1. Container
    2. Soil (not clay but not too loose either)
    3. Gravel
    4. Water
    5. Crushed charcoal
    6. Plants
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  2. 2
    Put about an inch of gravel on the bottom of the container, then add two tablespoons of charcoal.  
    1. This is for drainage purposes. Add your soil (peatlite mix if available) and fill your container, but stop about an inch before the rim.
    2. Important: Measure the soil, gravel and charcoal you put in your container. This will be your guide regarding the amount of water you can pour into the garden later.
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  3. 3
    Select your plants.  
    1. You can have from three to five plants, depending on the size of your container.
    2. Be sure your plants are compatible with one another; they should have approximately the same needs in terms of water and sunlight.
    3. Your plants should come in various heights and thicknesses.
    4. It is good to have one plant taller than the rest, another plant that will be intermediate in height, and then a low growing one.
    5. Go for variations in shape, color and texture.
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  4. 4
    Set the plants so that the garden will look like a complete environment. If your garden is to be viewed from the side, set the tallest plant off center. Put in the tallest plant first, and proceed from there. Step back and view the progress of your work. Hold the plant against the proposed place before you put it in permanently. Look at your garden from all sides before making the final planting.
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  5. 5
    Once everything is set, water the dish garden, using a third of the volume of soil and gravel you used to fill your container. Do this slowly so that the water does not slide off and carry the soil with it.
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  6. 6
    Decorate your garden, Put in a rock, a frog, a pathway or a small rustic structure that will make the garden interesting and bring out the theme you are trying to present. Other accessories that can be visually effective are a piece of shell, a twig, or a piece of coral.
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  7. 7
    Gently but firmly pat everything into place. You now have you dish garden and you have completed 80 percent of the work. However, there is the 20 percent you still need to accomplish.  
    1. Set your dish garden in a place where it will have the space and a little less than the sunlight it needs.
    2. A shady part of the garden or porch where it is protected from the wind should do just fine.
    3. Keep it there for a week or more until the plants have settled into the container.
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Tips, Tricks and Warnings

  1. 1
    Some gardens can thrive indoors or outdoors. Just make sure you do not suddenly subject any dish garden to strong sunlight after it has become used to being inside the house.
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  2. 2
    Choose slow growing plants for your dish garden, such as African violets, mini bromeliads, pitcher plants, jade plants, asparagus ferns, and sundew.
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  3. 3
    Prune the unnecessary limbs and roots before you set any plant in the dish. If handled gently, the plant will recover quickly from this,
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  4. 4
    Make sure containers are leak proof (especially if you plan to keep your dish garden indoors) so that furniture does not get ruined.
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  5. 5
    Give the plants in the garden room to grow and select those that will be easy to prune later.
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  6. 6
    Once you have the knack for making dish gardens make a few small ones and season them so that you are ready with very handy and personalized gifts for friends.
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  7. 7
    Signs of growth are a sure indicator that your dish garden is established. When you see this, you can begin to position the dish garden where it will look best.
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Making dish gardens is a very rewarding hobby. It allows you to express your artistic self and gives you the satisfaction of seeing your end product almost immediately. Best of all, within the confines of a small container you are able to fashion a tangible image of beauty you can focus on and appreciate.

Questions and Answers

How to make a dish garden with ferns?

  • Choose the type of fern you wish to include. Because of the way they grow and the specific conditions they need, the most suitable ones for life indoors are the table ferns (also known as Pteris), hare's foot ferns and bird's nest ferns. They can also be combined with the beautiful Christmas fern or the exotic royal fern.
  • Select the soil. A mixture of moist soil with high organic content would be the best solution for your ferns' successful growing.
  • Use a plastic pot because it retains the mixture better than a clay one. The bigger fern types develop a shallow root system, which makes such kinds of pots the most appropriate for them.
  • Select the place where you want your garden to grow. Ferns are slightly whimsical plants, which don't do well in direct sunlight. A north or east window would be the place in your home they will like most.
  • Pay attention to the temperature of the room. Ferns have to be cultivated in a place with cool temperatures. Keep the night temperature under 15 degrees Celsius, and the day temperature at not more than 22 degrees Celsius.
  • Adjust the level of humidity. Most types of ferns like to grow in high levels of humidity (between 40-50 percent). To achieve the appropriate humidity, you can put the dish into a bigger vessel filled with water and gravel, or use a humidifier to keep more moisture in the air.
  • Water the ferns often. These kind of plants need to be watered frequently; don't leave them dry because this would be fatal.
  • Fertilize the fern. As with any other plants, ferns also need to be fertilized. The best time for this useful action is from April through September.
  • Remove the "old" fronds when necessary" this will bring new life to the plant.
  • Separate the ferns. Most ferns grow very quickly, but this doesn't have to scare you. Take the plant out of the soil and half of the root's ball with a sharp knife with a long edge. When you replace the old dishes with new ones, water the ferns and continue to grow them in the same conditions as before.

Just make sure to pick a container and plants that will all work together well. With something like a fern, you will want to ensure you properly trim the extra limbs and roots.

1. the correct Fern choice is essential, something like table ferns, or bird's nest ferns will work great.

2. You want soil that has a nutrient content

3. You want to place the fern in a room without too much direct sunlight, and a very mild temperature, at night below 15 degrees Celsius and during the day no more than 22 degrees Celsius.

How should I arrange my zen dish garden?

Arranging an exotic dish garden is the best way to bring the peace and harmony of the East into your home. To achieve this wonderful effect, you just have to follow these steps:

  • Create a pot on your own. Dishes are the most specific part of your zen garden, and this is what brings the Asian culture to your home. Take an average piece of plywood and shape it in the form of rectangle. The pot should look flat, and its sides could be not more than 5-10 cm high.
  • Join the separated elements using an achromatic gum to achieve a complete appearance of the dish.
  • Supply sand and small river pebbles which are some of the major elements of the zen dish garden. The pot for this kind of garden is not big, so you can buy sand from a store.
  • Put the sand in water. The sand surface could be smoothed or furrowed depending on your taste.
  • Add some decorative elements. Interesting shaped pebbles or mossy rocks could make your zen dish garden look as just brought from Asia. You can also use some little animal toys.
  • Select the place where you wish to put your garden. If you have a nook with an extravagant light, the zen pot would bring more comfort and an exotic look there.

The arrangement of a zen garden is not something you can really be told how to do. Once you have the general placement of plants and rocks, it is really up to your preference on the designs you make in the sand. There is not really a step by step design method for them. It is intended more as a therapeutic activity in which you create a design as you go. Typically though you can use various tools, such as rakes designed for zen gardens, and create shifting patterns going in-between all the objects in the garden. Here you can find many examples of zen gardens big and small to draw inspiration from

Different kinds of plants to put in dish gardens?

There are too many plants that you can actually put into the dish garden that you are thinking of, however depending on the type of dish garden your plants could vary. Hence you are planning to use a different kind of variety of plants like cacti and your theme could be about desert since cacti are mostly found in deserts. So different kinds of cactus will do, cause they share the same type and kind. Here are some kinds of plants that is mostly used in dish gardens : 1. flower plants 2. Cactus 3. Foliage plants 4. Bonsai

And many more.

How to make a simple dish garden for my project?

How to make a simple dish garden for my project?I need low cost material to spend in material we will use?

A great and inexpensive way to make a dish garden is to visit your local market - grocery stores are best, and find some plants that are on sale. You can then put this in a ceramic or terra-cotta container, which you can get inexpensively at most garden stores. If you're feeling particularly creative, you can ask your local garden store if they're interested in supporting you with a low cost project, and featuring your work and school on their website or garden brochure. This way, they get free advertising and marketing, and you are able to save money, while building business experience and relationships in your local community.

Alternatively, you can also take clippings of jade plants, spider plants, and other plants that are easy to grow in a cup of water. Just put them in some water for a week, in partial sun, where they can grow a root structure, and then plant them in the bowl or pot of your choice.

What are the benefits of dish gardening?

Dish gardening benefits, importance and characteristics

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Why do I need to put charcoal and gravel in my dish?

I don't know what's the role of charcoal and gravel. would the charcoal and gravel sip the water? that's why the container don't have the holes at the bottom? thanks for responding.

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How to make dish garden one to ten steps?

I don't understand it and I can't find it anywhere and that is it. I have tried: So very very far. I think it was caused by: I don't know

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How could we make a recyclable material-based dish garden?

Our teacher told us that our dish gardens should be made out of recyclable materials.

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How can I make a dish garden at a small place?

I live in Karachi, Pakistan and I love planting so can you please tell me how can I manage this at a small place in my house. Looking forward for your cooperation.

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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Recent edits by: SW, Alfie, Grimm

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