Miniscapes put gardens on small scale

By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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When the economy slowed business for landscape designer Katrina Leonidov Fairchild, she took a creative path to downsizing. The Meadow Vista resident set her sights on miniature gardens. Created in 14-to-16- inch diameter containers, they’re smaller versions of landscapes Fairchild would actually create on a life-size scale. “I’m interested in the elements that make up the design, from the same perspective that I tackle a site for someone who wants a design,” she said. Most are built around structures — gazebos, pergolas, patios. For her first miniature design, she started with a cabin. “I adorned it with rock on the fireplace and painted it to look like a cabin you’d find in Tahoe,” she said. “One thing led to another and I found some plants that mimic redwoods or pines and then added rock and stones and basically it started to look like places I’ve visited.” That got her started thinking about other places she’s seen. “I created one on La Paz, Mexico,” she said. Another of the gardens had a Harley theme. “I bought a miniature Harley and included it in one of the landscapes, calling it ‘Ride into Tahoe,’” she said. She drew upon her Texas heritage for another garden scene. Planted with cactus, it has a motorcycle riding through the dessert. Then there’s her mini-take on the California coast. “I made it look like it was on top of a cliff overlooking the water,” Fairchild said. For the water, Fairchild used recycled blue glass. One of the scenes reflects time she spent in Africa. “It was called ‘Remember Africa,’ and I made it in a little tin bucket and incorporated some grasses and gravel and two lions. The lions were plastic but very realistic. I usually don’t use plastic but this was an exception.” Fairchild keeps the miniature gardens as true-to-life as possible. “I strive to use real materials — real stone, gravel, real wood furniture,” she said. “I refrain from plastic or anything fake looking. I even use real driftwood. When I take walks, I’m always looking down searching for things I can use in the landscapes.” When she started displaying her designs at home shows and fairs, they struck a chord. “People actually stopped to analyze them and look at them,” Fairchild said. “They’d begin smiling. I asked them, ‘Do you see yourself in that landscape?’ and they’d say yes.” A design with an arbor caught the eye of Nevada City resident Natasha Shubin. “It was an emotional thing,” she said Monday. “When I saw it, it was like a little yard and a little garden and it was just like coming back to my childhood. I just wanted to go in there and be in there — like Alice in Wonderland.” Shubin said she keeps the miniscape on her deck, within easy view from a nearby window. When she creates the designs, Fairchild plans them around where they’ll fit into a home landscape. “Just like doing a regular planting plan, I evaluate what kind of plants go together,” she said. “I group them into ones that like full sun, part shade or full shade; and that need the same amount of water. Others I create for indoors.” Maintaining these small gardens takes some special care. “Because these are plants that grow slowly, you have to back off on fertilizing. That’s different than something that’s growing life size,” she explained. “You don’t want them to be fast-growing. And you must trim them back in small amounts from time to time. You can even use scissors.” Depending on location indoors or in the garden, most of the miniscapes will need only a little water once a week or every two weeks, she said. At the same time, she stresses that they’re not bonsai designs. “I don’t tinker with the roots,” she said. “I don’t control the plants. It’s a totally different thing.” When Fairchild began selling the designs, she noticed that customers would ask a lot of questions about how to put them together. So she decided to offer a class in making the miniature gardens and also to sell the tiny items needed to create them. “I thought, I’m always about helping people put their gardens together, so why not share this expertise in landscape design and apply it to miniatures,” she said. Her first class on miniature gardens will be June 19. Cost of Fairchild’s ready-made miniature gardens ranges from $50 to $100, depending on the amount of materials used. She also will do special orders reflecting hobbies or special interests.