Create a miniature landscape!
(Excerpted from "Create a Miniature Landscape" by Baldassare Mineo,
Fine Gardening, August 2002)

A trough garden is a microcosm of a full-size garden. It has soil, rocks, mulch, elevation changes, plants that provide different textures, and flowers that come and go throughout the seasons. What's most appealing about a trough garden, though, is that all these elements are found in a space not much bigger than a kitchen sink. Here's an easy five-step plan to create your own trough garden, brought to you by Fine Gardening:

1. Choose plants.
There are thousands of small rock-garden and alpine plants that will thrive in a trough garden. Look for flat ground covers, cushion shaped perennials, and short or tall woody shrubs (either deciduous or evergreen). When it comes to shrubs, be sure to choose dwarf varieties, so the miniature landscape will stay in scale as it matures. Before planting your selections, experiment by placing them side by side to see which pairings are appealing to you, keeping in mind such factors as attractive foliage combinations and height differences. Most alpine plants grow slowly, so they will be content in a trough for a long time.

2. Mix your soil and fill the trough.
Alpine and rock-garden plants require sharper drainage than traditional garden plants do. Mix equal parts sand, grit, and organic matter. The sand and grit (which is 1/4-to-1-inch gravel that is free of fine dust and silt) provides the quick drainage these plants need. However, you don't want your soil to drain too quickly in these shallow containers, so adding organic matter like compost, peat moss, leaf mold, or aged bark will help retain some water and provide nutrients to the plants. Before filling up the trough with soil, place a piece of screen over the drainage holes to prevent the soil from falling out.

3. Add a rock.
To create a naturalistic effect, place a rock or two in your miniature landscape. A rough-textured rock that blends with the color and texture of the trough usually looks best. Bury at least half the rock for a natural effect. Rocks in trough plantings add extra drainage and often provide a cool root run in summer and a protected, warmer root run in winter.

4. Arrange the plants.
Designing a trough garden can be challenging because the scale is so tiny, but standard design principles apply: The arrangement of the plants should be pleasing and interesting. Personal taste and opinion count for a lot, but remember that a taller plant set a little off center is a good focal point and that trailing plants spilling over and softening the edges of trough are charming. Once you have decided on the design, plant your alpine and rock-garden plants just as you would larger ones. Moisten the soil, make a hole, spread out the plant's roots in the hole, then fill in around them. Once all the plants are in place, with soil pressed closely around the roots, water the container until it is soaked. Finally, press gently around the plants once more to be sure the new roots are in complete contact with the soil.

5. Top dress with gravel.
A layer of gravel over the soil does many salubrious things. It looks natural; it conserves moisture, keeping surface roots from drying out in hot weather; it provides a warm, sun-catching blanket over the soil in the winter; it prevents weeds from sprouting; and it is appreciated by certain alpines that do best when their crowns and lower leaves don't touch moist soil. Your trough is now ready for display.

Fine Gardening offers hands-on advice from America's best gardeners. Every issue of Fine Gardening brings you information and inspiration about garden design, intriguing plants, reliable techniques, practical landscaping projects, and much more! Enjoy inspiring design ideas that help you develop your garden space. Master the proven gardening methods of avid, experienced gardeners. Discover noteworthy plants, from the newest varieties to captivating plant combinations. Fine Gardening helps you be the most successful gardener that you can be!

And here's everything you need to successfully plant your own trough garden -- with help from Fine Gardening.

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