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Lord of the Rings fans rejoice; the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey screened in Wellington today and it’s only a matter of weeks before the rest of us get to see it for ourselves. I’ve always wanted to make a themed miniature garden, so I thought I might get my Tolkien geek on for Craftuts+ and make a Hobbiton-themed miniature garden.
In this tutorial, I’ve defined a miniature garden as an open garden – such as the trifle bowl I used, but you could also use a fish bowl or a retro brandy sniffer. By contrast, a terrarium is technically a closed and sealed miniature garden, which is unique as it controls its own atmosphere.
I chose an wide-mouthed glass vessel as it’s the first miniature garden I’ve made, and it provides easier access for planting. This project is a lot of fun whether you’re a Tolkien fan or not – use it as inspiration and a starting point for your own themed miniature garden. Most of all, make sure your have fun!
- Fresh moss.
- Pebbles or other drainage material such as broken clay pots or crushed rock.
- Small plant/s suitable for a miniature garden (see my list below).
- Horticultural charcoal (available from a nursery or gardening supplies shop).
- Potting mix.
- Tiny twigs.
- Glass container or bowl. I used a trifle bowl from Freedom Australia.
- Hobbits (optional). I used miniature model railway figures with a German Beer Garden theme by Noch. (It was the closest I could get to a Hobbit look.)
- Modelling clay – I used DAS air-drying modelling clay, but you could also use oven-baking clay, like Fimo.
- Red nail varnish (optional)
- Selection of Washi tapes in different patterns and prints.
- Small animals (optional). I actually didn’t use the animals in my final design.
- Beige-coloured cotton thread.
- Small scissors (I used nail scissors).
- Garden trowel (or you could make do with a ladle or large spoon).
- Small sharp knife.
- Wooden skewers.
- Green acrylic paint. (I used Reeves Acrylic paint in Oxide Chromium Green.)
- Brown acrylic paint. (I used Interactive Artists’ Acrylic paint in Raw Sienna Dark.)
- White acrylic paint. (I used Kaiser Colour in White.)
- Fine paintbrushes.
- Gardening scissors.
- Rolling pin (a specialist acrylic roller for modelling clay would be even better.)
- Fine water spray.
- Gardening gloves.
Step 1: Plan Your Landscape Design
Trace around the top of your vessel with a pencil and roughly sketch in the main elements to fit the scale of the space. Using photographic references from the set of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, as well as Tolkien’s own illustrations of “The Hill”, I decided I would feature one main hill with a single leafy tree on top. One Hobbit’s house (Bilbo’s, naturally) would be worked into the side of the hill.
You can see in my sketch that I’ve drawn an oval shape in the top right corner of my circle for the hill, with a circle for the tree and square for the chimney. Underneath it, I’ve sketched in Bilbo’s house and garden path. The plan will help when you’re assembling the garden and landscaping the soil.
Step 2: Make Your Hobbit Elements
Inspired by the Hobbiton set of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I hand-crafted a series of elements for my miniature Hobbiton. These included:
- Bilbo’s house.
- Bilbo’s chimney.
- Miniature toadstools to go under the tree (not strictly Hobbiton but I thought it would make a whimsical addition as well as a splash of colour).
- A miniature clotheslines with miniature Hobbit clothes.
In the following steps I will show you how to make each of these elements. It’s best to make them at least a day or two before you plan to plant your garden, to allow for drying time for the clay and paint.
Step 3: Sketch Bilbo’s House
After examining images of the set for The Hobbit, I decided that the best way to portray Bilbo’s house would be to make a clay model of an elongated semi-circular shape, with details for the door and windows.
My glass vessel is 20cm (around 8 inches) in diameter and 10cm (around 4 inches) deep, so if your bowl or jar has similar dimensions, you might like to use my template for Bilbo’s house below. Otherwise, just scale it to suit the dimensions of your vessel.
Step 4: Make Bilbo’s model house
Grab a handful of modelling clay and knead it until it’s pliable and easy to work with. Roll it into a ball and then use a rolling pin to flatten it to around 0.5mm (0.2 inches) high. Cut out around the template for Bilbo’s house and place it on top of your clay. Use a sharp knife to cut around the edges, so you have the basic shape for Bilbo’s house. Smooth the edges with your fingers.
Step 5: Add Details to Bilbo’s House
Now it's time to add some three-dimensional details to the flat surface, so it has a more realistic appearance. I used an Australian five-cent coin (which is 2cm - or 0.8 inch - in diameter) to make an impression for Bilbo’s round door. You might like to use a coin with similar dimensions – or look around your house for an object that will make a similar impression (a thimble top, bottle top, cork, etc).
Use a sharp knife to score two impressions either side of the ‘door’ to imitate wood beams. Then score horizontal impressions at the bottom of the model, to imitate wood beams running along the bottom of the house.To imitate the appearance of a wooden door, use a sharp knife to run wooden ‘slats’ vertically inside the circular door itself. Don’t worry about making perfectly straight lines as Hobbiton is fairly rustic!
Finally, use the non-brush end of a narrow paintbrush to make two indents either side of the wooden beams for windows. Leave your model to dry overnight (or if you’ve used an oven-baking clay, follow the instructions on the packet to bake it in the oven). Once your model is dried and set, it’s ready to paint.
Step 6: Paint Bilbo’s House
Tolkien describes Bilbo’s house as having “a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle.” So if you want to recreate Bilbo’s house, paint the circular door with a dark green, and use a light brown acrylic paint to paint the rest of the ‘house’. I mixed the brown with a little black to distinguish the wooden ‘beams’ running vertically and horizontally along the house, as well as to colour in the ‘windows’.
Leave to dry, and then stick on your door knob with super glue. If you want to follow Tolkien literally, you could use a small brass bead as your door knocker, but I had a gold jewellery jump ring on hand which was the perfect fit (and I noticed that Peter Jackson’s Hobbiton also featured doors with ring-style knockers).
That’s it – you’ve now made one Hobbit’s house. But to complete the Hobbiton look, you need to add a chimney to your hill.
Step 7: Make Bilbo’s Chimney
Take a finger-sized piece of modelling clay and roll it into a very rough sausage shape, around 1cm (0.4 inches) in thickness. Now take a knife or a ruler and flatten the lengths of your sausage against it to create the four walls of the chimney. Again, don’t make it too precise or perfect! Take a knife and cut it down to scale – to around 4cm (1.6 inches - make it longer because you will plant around 1cm of it in the soil). Then take a sharp knife and carefully score ‘bricks’ into your chimney, as shown in the image.
Now you need to make the details for the top of the chimney. Cut a rectangular shape around 1.5cm by 1.2cm, and 0.2mm high. Leave aside. Finally, take two tiny pieces of clay and roll them between your fingers to make two little pots to sit on top of your chimney.
I left my rectangular slab and pots to dry separately and then glued them to the chimney with super-glue at a later time. Leave your chimney to air-dry or bake in the oven according to your clay’s instructions. Once dry, paint it with the medium brown paint. Bilbo’s house and chimney are now complete!
Step 8: Make Tiny Toadstools (Optional)
OK, so this is not strictly Tolkien or Jackson, but I wanted to add a cluster of bright red toadstools to the base of my tree for a splash of colour and a touch of whimsy. Take a small pea-sized piece of clay and roll it around the end of a toothpick to make the stalk of your toadstool. Place it in a lump of clay to keep it steady. Remember to make it longer than you need it, as it will be planted in the soil with moss placed on top.
Then take a tiny piece of clay (about half the size of a pea) and shape it into a toadstool top and place it on top of the stalk. Leave to dry or bake in the oven according to your clay instructions. Once dry, paint the top with bright red nail varnish for a lovely shine, then paint on tiny white spots using a toothpick and white acrylic paint.
Step 9: Make the Clothesline
Take two toothpicks and tie some natural-coloured thread, yarn or twine between the two ‘posts’. Anchor the toothpicks in a blob of clay. Then take some Washi tape and make some ‘clothes’ and ‘tablecloths’ for the line. Cut your Washi tape in half length-ways, and fold a 5cm strip in half over the thread, and seal both sides. You could just leave them as squares to look like blankets and linen, or you could cut legs and arms in them to resemble clothes.
Step 10: Assemble Your Miniature Garden
Once you have made all the little elements for your Hobbiton miniature garden, you can start planting. Make sure you assemble everything you need before you begin, and spread some newspaper or butcher’s paper on your surface to keep it clean. Place your garden plan next to your vessel so you can landscape it to scale.
Your miniature garden needs layers of drainage material to ensure the roots of the plants don’t rot from excess moisture. So begin by filling your vessel with a layer of small pebbles. I used a packet of Bonzai pebbles, but you could also use crushed rocks or broken clay pots. Aim for a 3cm-5cm (1.2- 2 inch) layer of pebbles, depending on the size and scale of your vessel.
Step 11: Layer the Charcoal and Soil
Next, pop on a pair of gardening gloves before adding around a 5cm (2 inch) layer of charcoal, which ensures that your soil stays “sweet” and also absorbs excess moisture. If your trowel is too big for your vessel, use a ladle or large spoon instead.
Now you can add your potting mix. Make sure you use a good quality potting mix, rather than just digging up some dirt out of the garden. It won’t contain any pests or weeds, and should be free from soil disease.
Step 12: Landscape the Soil Layers
This is where you should refer to your garden plan and use your hands to mould and build up a hill on one side of the vessel. The base of the hill should be quite steep so that when you insert Bilbo’s house frontage it stays upright. Flatten out an area at the base of the hill for the path.
Step 13: Add Greenery and Plants
I only used one plant in my mini garden, as I wanted it to be a strong visual reference to ‘The Hill’ as portrayed by both Tolkien and Jackson. I used a Pilea Microphyllea (also known as an artillery or gunpowder plant), but you could also use a bonsai plant or any number of small, leafy plants (see my list of suitable plants below).
Dig a hole in your hill with a spoon or a stick and carefully remove the plant from its pot. Keeping the root system ball intact, insert the plant into the prepared hole, and gently pat down the soil around the roots and reshape your hill if necessary.
Step 14: Add the Moss Layer
Carefully take your pieces of fresh mosh and place them on top of the soil, pressing them gently into place. You might need to cut some pieces to fit your vessel. Give your moss a misting with water and leave it to settle before moving on.
Step 15: Add Your Hobbiton Elements
Now is the fun part – where you turn your miniature garden into Hobbiton. Keeping your toadstools on their toothpicks, carefully insert them in a cluster under the plant. Now take Bilbo’s house and gently place it at the bottom of the hill.
Form a path from the front door that leads around the base of the hill with some tiny Bonsai pebbles. Insert your clothesline at the end of the path, and place your two Hobbits next to Bilbo’s house. I also snipped some tiny twigs into 1cm (0.4 inch) lengths and glued them together to resemble a pile of logs outside Bilbo’s front door.
Step 16: Personalise your Hobbiton garden
Get creative adding in other details and Hobbiton elements. I made a fence out of tiny twigs and super-glue, but decided that I didn’t need to include it in the final design. You could also make bunting (in a similar way we made the clothesline) to celebrate Bilbo’s birthday, or you could add some tiny toy farm animals like pigs, geese and ducks to your garden.
Have fun making your own Hobbiton!
Caring for Your Miniature Garden
- As it’s an open garden, you will need to regularly check the moisture level of your soil with your finger – if it is dry to the depth of one inch below the soil surface, add water. A fine mist sprayer is the best way to water your plant.
- A miniature garden can be moved around your house for decorative purposes – you could use it as a centrepiece on your dining table, keep it on your desk, or use it to decorate a coffee table, mantle, window sill or bookshelf. Just make sure there is enough diffused light (never direct sunlight as your delicate plants might burn). Ultimately, the amount of light needed will vary according to the plants you use.
- Avoid drafts or heaters.
- If you use cactus or succulents, be careful not to overwater them.
Good Plants for Miniature Gardens
Not all plants are suitable for a miniature garden. Here's a variety of plants that should thrive in your micro cosmos:
- Acorus gramineus variegatus (miniature sweet flag or Japanese sweet flag)
- Adiantum (maidenhair fern)
- Anthurium scherzerianum (flamingo flow or pigtail plant)
- Asparagus fern
- Aspidistra elatior (cast-iron plant)
- Asplenium (spleenwort)
- A. bulbiferum (mother fern)
- Japanese boxwood
- Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittatum’ (spider plant)
- Clerodendrum thomsoniae (glorybower; bleeding heart)
- Cycas revoluta (Sago palm)
- Davallia mariesii (ball fern)
- Euonymus japonica (box-leaf euonymus)
- Ficus (members of the fig family)
- Grevillea robusta (Australian silk oak)
- Ligustrum japonica Texanum (waxleaf privet; Japanese privet; Texas privet)
- Nephrolepsis exaltata (sword fern)
- Pellea rotundifolia (button fern; roundleaf fern)
- Polystichum (hedge fern)
- Pteris (brake, table fern, ribbon fern, Victoria fern)
- Saintpaulia (African violet)
- Soleirolia soleirolii (baby’s tears)
- Viola odorata (violet)
Are you going to make your own miniature garden? Go on! Why not post the pics of your garden creations on to the Crafttuts+ Facebook page. I’d love to see your miniature Hobbitons!