Desert dioramas

ANNA GOESER’S process for creating the retro container gardens she calls Mojave bonsai.

1. Pick an accessory or two -- perhaps a dollhouse-size figure or a vintage Matchbox car.

2. Select a container that repeats the color of the main accessory -- a yellow bowl to go with a yellow car, for example. Or go with vivid complementary colors such as blue with orange. Make sure the container has good drainage; if necessary drill a hole. (The shop where Goeser works, Pot-ted, will do this for you.)

3. Sprinkle a half-inch layer of lava rock in the pot. Fill the rest with cactus mix potting soil until it’s 2 inches below the rim.


4. Buy three to five small cactuses. Leaving them in their pots, arrange the cactuses as you like. To make the plants appear larger -- as in a perspective drawing -- position them toward the back of the scene you are creating, so there is ample foreground.

5. Dig holes in the potting soil with your fingertips. Then use tongs to grasp the cactuses and gently pull them from their containers. Tuck the plants into the soil and anchor them by pressing down on the dirt.

6. Add a top dressing of clean white sand or crushed rock. (Do not use beach sand because it’s too salty.) Add pizazz by lightly sprinkling glass chips that echo the color of the container. If you like, enhance the diorama with boulder-like rocks and an inch-wide road of coarse black sand.

7. Position accessories to suggest a desert experience, such as a car trip.


8. Brush bits of dirt and sand from plants using a half-inch-wide paintbrush. The same brush can be useful for tamping fine sand.

9. Dribble water over the plants to settle the roots.

10. Position the pot in bright light but not full sun. Water sparingly, about every two to three weeks. Let the soil go nearly dry between waterings or the cactuses may rot.

-- Debra Lee Baldwin