Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

A Fireplace Garden Makeover

septembre 28For a long time now (about 15 years), I have been growing a mini garden in the fireplace of my basement office, lit by a fluorescent lamp installed inside the chimney, out of sight. However, I was becoming less and less satisfied with the results. Over time, a peace lily (Spathiphyllum) I had planted when it was just a little sprout had become a monster and had slowly eliminated, with its dense shade, almost all other plants except a creeping fig (Ficus pumila) that saved itself by climbing up the fireplace’s brick walls. So yesterday I set out to create a new mini-garden, using this time, I hope, plants that will really remain dwarfs.

I actually prepared for this project over the last few months, picking up materials over my various garden tours. I harvested stones and bits of driftwood from the beach in Matane, Quebec in July. During my trip to Longwood Gardens in August, I bought “real terrarium plants” (the ones sold for that purpose in my area are generally juvenile forms of plants far too big for my needs!). Two weeks ago, while in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden shop in New York, I bought a bag of “tropical moss”, hoping that once moistened it would come back to life as the label on the product promised. If not, it will at least fill in a few blank spaces until my other plants start to grow. So yesterday, on my first full weekend at home since March (I lead a busy life!), I chopped up the overly dominant peace lily and removed it from the old garden piece by piece (I did not want to disturb the roots of my creeping fig, which is to remain a backdrop for my new garden, by trying to dig the plant out all at once). Then I added moistened potting soil, decorative stones, pieces of wood, and finally, mosses and  my new little plants. The plant list includes a miniature sinningia, several small ferns, dwarf begonias, a few pileas (Pilea microphylla and P. glauca), a round-leaf peperomia (Peperomia rotundifolia), a tiny syngonium (I know, I know: it will one day outgrow its space and have to be removed, but it is so cute right now) and, as small tree, a eugenia (Syzygium myrtifolium). Afterwards I watered gently to settle the roots, then mopped up. It remains to see which plants will thrive and which will not, and then make adjustments. Still, I’m very satisfied with the results so far and figure this new fireplace garden should be good for another 15 years.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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