Stan Hywet displays miniature gardens

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Beacon Journal home writer

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A miniature garden created by Sue Klein, a member of the Akron Garden Club, sits on display in the Corbin Conservatory at Stan Hywet Hall. The gardens typically combine a shallow container with petite plants or dwarf varieties and other pipsqueak features -- a miniature gazebo, pebbled path, and decorative doodads -- to create an enchanting scene that rewards curiosity. (Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal)

You can stroll through 70 acres taking in the gardens at Stan Hywet.

Or you can walk a few steps.

Through Monday, an exhibit in the historical estate’s greenhouse focuses on gardening in miniature form. Members of the Akron Garden Club are displaying 35 miniature landscapes and other small-scale gardens created in containers including ceramic bowls, stone-like troughs and even hollow logs.

Visitors will find fanciful vistas in scaled-down form— a tiny stone bench in the shade of an inches-tall elm, hens and chicks the size of thumbnails, a wee arbor covered in ivy with impossibly small leaves. There are whimsical fairy gardens, elegant arrangements and horticultural curiosities.

The exhibit complements a collection of similar miniature gardens created by Stan Hywet’s horticultural staff, which are tucked away as fanciful surprises among the plantings and containers in the greenhouse adjoining Corbin Conservatory.

Most of the gardens in the club’s exhibit are miniature landscapes, downsized depictions of outdoor settings using miniature plants, small rocks and other natural elements. Many grow in troughs made from hypertufa, which is artificial stone created from ingredients such as peat moss and sand bonded with Portland cement.

Such creations challenge gardeners to imitate landscapes in a believable and artistic way, said the exhibit’s organizers, Debby Bauman and Ruth Moorhead. Dwarf plants are pruned to keep them tiny. Herbs and other plants are shaped to resemble minuscule trees and shrubs. Plant forms and colors are chosen carefully to create an aesthetically pleasing composition.

“I think it’s fun,” said Bauman, who has been creating trough gardens for about 15 years and has six or seven in a sedum bed in her yard in Bath Township. “It’s something you can have out and about in your yard, and it requires very little care.”

Putting together a miniature landscape requires more than an artistic eye, though. Choosing plants with similar sunlight and water requirements can be challenging, Moorhead said.

But she said she gets as much satisfaction from observing the plants in her miniature landscapes as she does from her full-size garden in Broadview Heights. “It’s really the same joy you get from gardening,” she said.

The club hopes to share that joy by teaching visitors how to grow their own miniature gardens. Handouts with tips are available to visitors, and the gardens on display are accompanied by information on how they were created. A display shows samples of materials that can be used to make planting mixtures for the gardens.

In addition to the miniature landscapes, the show includes small-scale plantings in creative containers such as a hollowed logs and rocks with depressions. A few fairy gardens are on display, the work of two club members’ grandchildren — Katie and Jason Spindel, the grandchildren of Sue Klein, and Jacob and Clay Andrew, grandchildren of Melanie Andrew.

The fairy gardens embody the ingenuity of their young creators. Take the upturned bike that sits atop a bench in Katie’s garden, for example.

Bauman smiled as she related how the girl’s grandmother had suggested righting the bike and placing it on the garden’s stone path.

Katie had a different idea, Bauman said. “She said, ‘No, Grandma, I was coming down the hill too fast, and I crashed.’ ”

Moorhead likes the idea of using miniature gardens as a way of getting children interested in gardening. Their small scale makes them a good fit for little hands and big imaginations.

The gardens are also a good outlet for people with little or no land, Moorhead said. They’re lightweight and easy to move, and they can be displayed wherever they’ll get the proper amount of light — atop walls, on patios, under trees. Moorhead likes to display miniature gardens in groupings, which she said have more visual impact than single gardens.

The gardens in the show may be diminutive, but they’re hardly delicate. As long as they’re planted properly, miniature gardens require little fuss and less watering than most container gardens, Moorhead said.

If the plants are hardy in our area, the gardens can be left outside during the winter with some protection, such as a covering of evergreen branches and leaves. Gardens with plants that can’t survive the cold can be brought inside, Bauman said, or those plants can be removed in the fall and replaced the next spring.

With the right care, the gardens can survive for years, Bauman said. “They really are meant to be pretty carefree.”

That’s a lot of gardening satisfaction for such a small package.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or You can also become a fan on Facebook at, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at

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