Whether it’s a whimsical fairy village that looks pulled from a storybook, or a rustic, campsite vignette so true-to-life that even the smallest details aren’t forgotten, there’s no denying the charm of a miniature garden.
The limitless creative potential of miniature gardening is one reason the hobby continues to attract devotees, both seasoned gardeners and newbies alike.
The tricky part, though, can be getting those customers into your shop when the popularity of miniature gardening has made it possible to find elements seemingly everywhere — from hobby and craft shops to big box stores.
Independent garden centers that have thrived in this market say it’s thanks to savvy marketing, carefully crafted showroom displays, and a well-stocked inventory — all of which help set them apart from competitors.
“Miniature gardening has been a very good category for us because it’s an area we’ve been committed to,” says Diane Giddens, who, with her husband, Richard, owns Oak Park Landscape & Water Garden Center in Swanton, Ohio. Their extensive inventory of miniature plants fills one and a half greenhouses and has helped them build a devoted, repeat client base.
“When I visit other centers, it seems they often have a very limited selection that’s almost an add-on to their gift department,” Giddens says. “But if you’re just dabbling in it, you’re not going to do that well.”
Interested in expanding or revamping your miniature offerings in 2019? Here are some things to consider.
1. Give customers a reason to visit and see new inventory
For the past five years, Oak Park Landscape & Water Garden Center has hosted an annual Fairy and Gnome Fest each June, which draws roughly 500 attendees over two days — mostly children and their parents or grandparents.
In addition to an array of miniature plants and features for sale, the event boasts hands-on miniature gardening opportunities, a costume party, face painting, photo opportunities with fairies, kids’ games, a treasure hunt, snacks, and more. “It’s very popular and makes the perfect photo and social media opportunity, since it’s kids and families enjoying gardening together,” Giddens says.
Oak Park has also hosted a successful Saturday morning kids’ club, which Giddens hopes to reintroduce this year, where staffers help children build their own fairy gardens and other garden projects.
Monthly or seasonal workshops offer another way to get miniature clients coming through your doors — especially when they offer hands-on opportunities to try new techniques or build new features.
At Colonial Gardens in Blue Springs, Missouri, visual coordinator Kristin Middleton offers popular monthly workshops that emphasize the creative, DIY-potential of miniature gardening — from how to build a water garden feature to incorporating handmade, whimsical trees made from wire and craft beads.
“Every month I offer a basic class where I teach participants the principles of miniature gardening, and then I offer another class where attendees learn a new technique to add to their gardens,” Middleton says. Popular recent workshops have focused on incorporating acorns and other woodland textures as well as fresh-cut flowers into miniature displays, for example.
2. Create an inviting showroom
At Colonial Gardens, the miniature garden showroom is framed by reclaimed wood salvaged from an authentic 1800s log cabin in an arrangement that not only packs ample visual appeal but also, strategically, requires customers to walk all the way through the showcase once they enter, because there’s only one entrance and exit. “We have all sorts of displays and little hidden surprises as they walk through,” Middleton says.
The area is full of pre-made, ready-to-buy miniature gardens created by Middleton that not only offer inspiration for shoppers but also are a popular item in their own right.
“I always try to have ones that are over the top, and they do sell,” she says. “My highest price one that’s sold so far was $450.”
Many of Middleton’s displays model ways that customers can creatively incorporate standard-size items into their miniature displays. For example, a small glass lantern transforms into a whimsical outdoor gazebo, when outfitted with a miniature garden table, while an old wash basin placed on a set of vintage table legs makes the perfect, no-bending-required miniature garden container. “People really do like little unique twists like that,” Middleton says.
3. Encourage intergenerational engagement
A key element in the popularity of miniature gardening is its appeal for both young and older gardeners alike — and in fact many shoppers buying miniatures are grandparents looking to build a garden with their grandchildren, Giddens and Middleton explain.
To cater to this market, it’s important to stock safe, non-breakable plastic figurines that aren’t so precious they can’t be played with energetically, along with your higher-price pieces.
In your marketing and newsletters, suggest fun ways that grandparents can continue the “magic” of their gardens with their grandkids, long after the hands-on creation aspect is complete.
“I had a customer who would buy items and mail them to her daughter, who secretly added them into the miniature garden. Then, her granddaughter would call and say, “Guess what the fairies brought to my garden today, Grandma,’” says Kathryn Newman, owner of the online specialty retailer MiniatureGardenShoppe.com. “It was a special way that they could connect with each other, even though they lived far apart.”
4. Emphasize holiday tie-ins and other small change-outs
Another way to keep customers engaged in your miniature inventory year-round is to offer an ever-changing array of holiday-themed add-ins and other, inexpensive elements that can easily be traded in or out to freshen up a display.
“The seasonal holiday items seem to be increasing in popularity. I get customers looking for not only Christmas or Halloween or Easter, but also Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day and all the other smaller holidays as well,” Newman says.
Similarly, for those wanting to give their displays just a little pop of something new, rather than a complete overhaul, small accessories like weather vanes or tiny baskets are always popular, Newman says.
Again, this is where having a large inventory comes in handy. “When I have an idea or theme in mind, I try to think of all the pieces or elements a person could need to make that scene,” Newman says.
5. Market miniature gardens as gifts
Finally, don’t overlook the potential to market miniature gardens as the perfect gift idea for birthdays, weddings, retirements — or even funeral memorials.
Middleton was recently asked to design a miniature garden as a wedding gift for a couple who loved hiking, for example, so she recreated one of their favorite vistas from Colorado, complete with figurine bears.
Similarly, Newman has seen an uptick in clients creating miniature gardens as gifts for retirees. “Perhaps they’re retired gardeners who are downsizing and don’t want a huge garden anymore, but they’re still gardeners at heart,” she says. “Miniature gardens offer the perfect gift to allow them to still get their fingers dirty, even if they don’t have the space or energy for a big garden any longer.”