Garden Photo of the Day

Miniature Gardening on a Grand Scale

A tiny garden inspired by bonsai

mini stream running through mini garden

My name is Lori Herlin, and I live on a 4.75-acre lot on the side of a mountain in Asheville, North Carolina. I retired here from Houston seven years ago. I was an avid gardener in Houston for 30 years but had a lot to learn about a very different climate that actually has four seasons and how to garden on a very steep slope. It took awhile to find shoes with good enough traction that I was not sliding downhill most of the time. Our lot was mostly wild forest with a small amount of landscaping along the driveway when we purchased it.

I spent the first four years landscaping the hill above the driveway up to the road and downhill below the house. We put in trails that zigzagged down the side of the mountain through our lot. I have three major park areas that I landscaped that are out on the trails as well. The trails and parks are decorated with some of my concrete projects as well as purchased statues. I switched from bronze casting to concrete for my sculptures because the larger outdoor scale made bronze casting cost-prohibitive. I have a life-size baby black bear in concrete in one of the parks.

For the last three years I focused my energy on a new project along the driveway that I call my Miniature Bonsai Garden. It combines the hobbies I brought with me from Houston of gardening and sculpture with a new bonsai hobby I picked up in Asheville. My new garden is 100 feet long and contains bonsai trees in training, flowering ground covers, succulents, and other small plants, as well as mosaic patios, small brick retaining walls, tile planter boxes (all built in my studio over the winter), tile sidewalks, and a stream made of rocks and concrete. 

The miniature garden has evolved from experience and problem solving over the last two years and is currently in its third growing season.

slope with retaining walls in fallHere’s the “before” shot of the space that would become the miniature garden.

slope after landscaping and new plantsAnd here is the “after” shot. Look closely at the plantings all along the front; they are miniature landscapes, with the small shrub being trained as a bonsai.

mini garden with tiny path and mini seating areasThe miniature garden even has a mini-sidewalk and a tree swing.

mini stream running through mini gardenA tiny water feature runs through the mini-landscape. The shrubs are Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’ (Zones 4–8), or a similar cultivar, that have been pruned up to reveal their trunks and make them look like miniature trees.

mini garden with mini arbor and mini courtyardIn this detail from the miniature garden, I particularly love the tiny vine-covered arbor!

mini garden with mini path winding through bonsai treesI love how the landscape works on two levels. In a wide view, the larger landscape works as a whole, and when you look closer, you can take in all the miniature details.

mini chairs and table next to mini pondA little seating area for tiny garden visitors on the mosaic tile patio

bonsai trees growing in the groundTraditionally bonsai are grown in containers, not in the ground, but the techniques can be translated to a wide range of situations. Wire wrapped around the trunks allows each branch to be positioned exactly where you want it to create a treelike effect in the garden.


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View Comments


  1. runfortheroses 08/25/2021

    Great stuff. I really like the little stone pond/river bed(?) there by the sitting area. Very nice!

    1. user-7875174 08/25/2021

      Yes there is a small pond that empties into a stream that winds through half of the length of the garden with a larger lake at the other end. I thought about putting in a recircuating pump so the water would flow thru the stream. We have a lot of bears in our area and I did not want to attract and unwanted attention.

  2. User avater
    user-7007816 08/25/2021

    Fascinating idea. Always good to see something new.

  3. gardendevas 08/25/2021

    Absolutely delightful! Amazing detail in such a cohesive design. Can tell you had so much fun working on this. Do those lights actually work?! (Normally I am not a particular fan of miniature gardens, but this is exceptional.)

    1. user-7875174 08/25/2021

      Yes the lights are low voltage landscape lights and the whole garden is all lit up at night. There are also in ground lights that uplight many of the trees.

  4. User avater
    treasuresmom 08/25/2021

    My word! It is gorgeous and imaginative!

  5. nwphilagardener 08/25/2021

    I sure hope this remarkable achievement has opportunities to be shown to many people. I can imagine how thrilling this garden must be for children and lovers of miniatures. In this case, the photographs are a tease because of the desire to see all the intricacies in person - from many different angles. Kudos to Lori!

    1. user-7875174 08/25/2021

      I have quite a few visitors from friends , family and neighbors. Neighbors often bring their out of town guests over to see it. A few grandchildren of friends have seen it and really did enjoy it. I enjoy sharing the garden with others and seeing their reactions.

  6. paiya 08/25/2021

    Spectacular miniature gardens. Obviously labor of love and patience. Do you open your garden to the public?

    1. user-7875174 08/25/2021

      So far I have only had friends and family and friends and family of friends over to see it. I live on a mountain with curvy roads and some steep slopes so parking can be a problem. I have recently tried to share more publicly online by sharing with and making a gallery of pictures and a video public on It is more fun to see it in person and I have never said no to anyone who has asked to see it.

  7. btucker9675 08/25/2021

    So charming!! I'll be you got interested in bonsai after a visit to the Arboretum in Asheville and seeing their incredible bonsai collection. It is one of the most amazing I've ever seen. I'd love to see more of your gardens including your sculptures!

    1. user-7875174 08/25/2021

      Actually a friend arranged to have someone come to her house to teach her how to create a bonsai tree and she invited me to join her. She now has 2 bonsai trees and I have over 100. I have enjoyed the bonsai exhibit at the NC Aroboetum and the Bonsai Expo Show they had every October (until Covid hit). Maybe I will take some new pictures this spring of other gardens in my yard to share. The ones I have are very outdated.

  8. Sunshine111 08/25/2021

    Loved seeing the before and after! Amazing job!

  9. sheila_schultz 08/25/2021

    Lori, the beauty you have created with this exquisite, miniature landscape is awe inspiring. The bonsai technique takes the entire space from cheesy to eye-catching. What an incredibly creative way to deal with a tough location. Your patience and skill is unbelievable.

  10. User avater
    simplesue 08/25/2021

    Big garden and your miniature garden- both are works of art!

  11. bsavage 08/25/2021

    Really beautiful! Thank you for sharing, and congratulations on your beautiful gardens!

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