ANNA GOESER'S container gardens -- desert dioramas she calls Mojave bonsai -- started as simple arrangements of cactuses and succulents. Then she began to add roads, cars and people. "They became little worlds," she says.
Her inspiration dates to the 1960s, when Goeser's grandfather had a cactus garden ornamented with old tractor parts. "He lived in Yucaipa," she says. "Houses had decorative rock instead of lawns, and huge columnar cactuses. Everything was flood-lighted at night. I thought it was beautiful."
Later, as an adult living in Riverside, she planted succulents in an old wringer washer. To this day, Goeser enjoys anything retro -- old TV shows, movies. She wears large glasses with midcentury styling, and she revels in the fact that she resembles Carol Burnett.
Goeser began making vintage-tinged dish gardens two years ago, shortly after going to work for Pot-ted, the garden shop with locations in Atwater Village and Santa Monica. Her boss brought in a late-1940s tool chest, "and the monster was born," Goeser says. She planted the chest with spherical Euphorbia obesa and cylindrical lithops, often called "living stones."
"It looked like the inner workings of an early TV," she says. "It sold to a set designer." Now, Goeser creates her miniature worlds using not only the shop's pots but also thrift-store treasures -- toy pickup trucks, wagons and the like.
When asked if her dish gardens, especially those with eye-popping colors, are a bit kitschy, Goeser laughs in agreement. "I'm the Pee-wee Herman of plants," she says.
Debra Lee Baldwin is author of "Designing With Succulents."