I approach most miniature garden landscaping projects using the same methods, tools, and materials as real life projects, just at a smaller scale. This post concerns only the stonework created for the Mother Tree.
I wanted to divide the Mother Tree “yard” into a shallow planting area (right side) and an outdoor living space with a patio, tadpole pond, planter box, and a walkway from the patio to the front entry.
STAGING THE LAYOUT
- I penciled in a general layout of what I wanted on the yard as a guide.
- I chose flat layers of broken slate for this project because the stones are easily cut into small shapes with pliers and/or tile nippers.
- The design needed to be dry-fitted first by cutting and positioning the biggest stones for the patio and fairy door porch with the smaller stones worked in to form the walkway to the wall entry.
- Stone paths are like a jigsaw puzzle, or a mosaic pattern, and take some time to work out.
- A flat file and/or emery board can be used to smooth and round rough edges and to create a worn look.
- There was some tedious work involved to get upright stones of the same thickness and fashioned for the small patio planter box (left bottom front). As in real life, the yard had to be leveled up a bit (scraping off little bumps) and the stones needed to fit together and stand vertically on their own as much as possible.
The beauty of using natural stones and pebbles for a miniature walk or patio is that each stone is unique, but they’re not usually the same thickness. The problem can be solved by attaching the stones in thick adhesive or mortar to nestle the stones into place. The thicker stones are pushed down further into the mix and the thin ones stay near the top to create a smooth transition between the stone surfaces. I chose to use mortar (I keep a bag for other projects) for a thick base to set the stones in place.
- Bender boards, or edge strips, to mold the mortar for a curved stone path can be made from heavy cardstock (covered with Scotch tape), lightly oiled plastic, or thin metal strips (from aluminum cans). If the mortar is a little on the dry side, the molding strips may not be necessary and a craft stick can be used to shape the mortar.
- I used glue water to mix with mortar to help adhesion to the papercrete surface of the yard. It may not have been necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt anything.
- I lightly sprayed the surface of the yard with water before laying on the mortar base so the curing papercrete below would not wick the moisture out of the mortar.
- A flat edged tool (craft stick, ruler, etc.) can be used to check for levelness or smoothness between the stones.
- A small block of wood is handy to tap stones further down into the mortar if needed. I’ve had to dig out a bit of wet mortar and reposition stones that were too high on past projects
- The stones will need to be just a tad taller than the top of the mortar if you plan on grouting around them for a tidy realistic finished.
NOTE: I’ve used ceramic tile adhesive or thick all-purpose glue (Ultimate Glue, Silicone adhesive, etc.) to set the stones for grouting.
I love, love, love working with grout, especially unsanded grout! Depending on the amount of water used, it has a consistency between paste and creamy pudding making it easy to use and to mask flaws in miniature work. It comes in a range of colors and can be tinted with acrylic paints, or painted. There are a few issues:
- Grout can crack and chip if used too thickly, and it is not a good choice for materials that may flex or expand and contract often.
- Grouting an intricate miniature landscape takes a lot of patience.
Unsanded grout MUST be used to fill the tiny cracks between little stones because the sand in the sanded grout cannot be forced into the small voids! Always follow the instructions on the grout container, but the following is a summary of the procedure:
- Mix with water, then wait . . .
- Apply grout between stones, and wait . . .
- Wipe off any unwanted grout from stones, wait some more . . .
- Final cleanup, and once again wait for the project to dry.
- Apply a coat or two of protective clear sealer.
NOTE: Another option for embedding stones for a path without using mortar and grout would be Portland cement. It does not contain sand and gravel like concrete, but is an ingredient in concrete mixes. It can be worked like grout, does not chip as easily, and can be tinted and painted. However, tinting the mix is tricky to control and painting around little stones is as tedious as grouting!
I used acrylic grey paint on the inside of the perimeter walls and patio planter box, and the yard up to the edges of the patio and pathway, for a cleaner look when/if the Mother Tree miniature garden was not planted. I, also, added removable custom cut grass mats for color in the planting areas. Two coats of clear sealer were applied to all the stonework to protect against any future paint drips and splashes (see the title photo for reference).
The picnic table, benches, and pond were permanently mounted. The remaining landscaping will be discussed in a later post.
I hope you were inspired by this post to create a few stone landscaping projects for your miniature gardens. Stay tuned for Part III: Fairy House Door.