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No matter how little space you have around your house — even if it nothing more than a Juliet-sized apartment balcony — you can have a living, breathing garden. In fact, even if you have no outdoor space at all, you can cultivate a miniature garden inside that’s small enough to fit on an end table or a console, with room left over for a lamp.

Anyone anywhere, even those with no gardening skills, can have a little “dish garden.” Planted with a variety of small succulents, a single dish can contain a fanciful world styled in any way you like, from a Southwest desert feel to a Zen vibe. And they’re portable. You can move them from room to room and from deck to patio to porch without replanting.

Adding to the attraction, succulents are hard to kill. They are a snap to propagate, require very little water and need minimal maintenance, making them a perfect plant to grow, even for newbies to gardening, says Barbara Darling, a “dish garden” enthusiast from Petaluma.

Unlike a full-sized garden that can take months of planning, hardscaping, infrastructure and planting, a dish garden can be assembled in 15 minutes if you have the materials at hand. They are not only pleasing to look at, but make great giveaways.

“They make great gifts and they’re really inexpensive to make,” said Darling. “Everyone has some container they have stored away in the garage. You can just throw in a few succulents, some planting mix and a little rock.”

Darling and other members of the Santa Rosa Garden Club’s succulents group have been busy since last fall growing and assembling small succulent dish gardens to feature at the club’s annual plant sale, April 22 at the Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center in Santa Rosa.

Every year the 68-year-old club creates something fun and different to try to differentiate their sale from the multitude of other plant sales cropping up all over the county in the spring. (For a clip-and-save list, check out the list accompanying this story.).

Last year the club potted-up imaginative fairy gardens. This year, they’re offering topiaries, ready-made succulent dish gardens and a nice selection of succulent plants for those who would like to assemble their own tiny, personalized gardens.

All of the plants are cultivated by club members. Choices will include echeverias, shaped like round rosettes; flowering sedums; spiky, vertical aloes; jade plants, some of which resemble miniature trees; and beautiful aeoniums, including the smaller haworthias that are great for small pots.

Other good choices for small potted gardens include kalanchoes and sempervivums. Almost any type of succulent however, will work in a dish garden. Even if they are larger-growing varieties, you can easily swap them out if they start overtaking the space, said Katie Torgerson, who is a member of the club’s succulents group. The only ones she avoids for dishes are cacti, which can be too prickly to move around easily.

Torgerson has been surrounded by these ultra ldrought-tolerant plants since she was a child. Her mother, Sandra Torgerson, became captivated with them in the 1960s, when they were still a garden curiosity.

“My mother had them in pots everywhere. We actually had someone from the Huntington Gardens say she had more varieties than they did,” Torgerson said of her mother, who joined the Santa Rosa Garden Club in the 1950s.

Torgerson has inherited her mother’s fascination with these striking plants. Her husband assists in the hobby by making perfectly-sized glazed pots with his own potter’s wheel and kiln.

The best pots for a dish garden are wide and shallow rather than deep. Torgerson likes them to be a 8-12 inches in diameter to accommodate a variety of plants. But they need only be 5-6 inches deep. Figure on three to six different plants for a pleasing variety. Look for plants of different shapes, and colors, even if it is just a different shade of green.

It’s also important that the chosen dish has a drainage hole. If it doesn’t you could drill your own hole if you have a diamond bit, Darling said.

The best bet for soil is to use a potting mix formulated for cactus and succulent plants. The small plants can be stuck right in the soil. You can then cover the soil with small rocks or stones or even decorative glass, all of which can be found at craft stores. Darling has a large supply of different types of stone and gravel she picked up as free samples from companies that sell landscape materials when she was re-doing her backyard.

Darling loves to add a playful little objects for a touch of whimsy. In a dish garden with an undersea theme she used glass stones to conjure of the feeling of water and a miniature fish. For a Zen garden, there can be touches such as adding a small Buddha. It’s simple to propagate your own succulents, making it easy for friends to share. Snip a cutting about half inch below a rosette or leaf, Torgerson said. Let it dry out for two weeks, either propped up or laid on its side. You can plant directly into the succulent potting mixture and add a tiny bit of water just to dampen.

Dish gardens are super easy to maintain. They don’t mind neglect, which is great if you are busy or travel a lot. Just give each plant about a tablespoon of water before you go. You won’t have to water gain until the soil is completely dry.

Torgerson likes to add a bit of fertilizer made for cacti and succulents in the spring and again in the fall. Keep your dish in a sunny window or spot outside. Succulents rest during the winter, and prefer water only once a month and temperatures of 50-60 degrees during their dormant period.

Torgerson recommends freshening up the dishes once a year, taking out anything that isn’t look well or that has outgrown the space.

Other members of the club have been potting up other kinds of plants in preparation for the big sale.

“We usually reckon to have 800 plants,” said Maeve Clemons, who heads up the plant sale committee for the 120-member club.

She’s bringing 50 plants she potting in November including some Euphorbia ‘Blue Jeans,’ various berries, echiums and small geraniums.

It can really be a treasure hunt for shoppers, depending on what club members have to offer.

“We have some lovely, mature rose that were dug up from one of our member’s garden after she re-landscaped,” Clemens said.

They have only a minimal selection of vegetables.

The club typically raises $2,000 from a single plant sale, and uses the proceeds to support community programs. Among other things, they give out scholarships to horticulture students, who often help out at the sale. The club also plants trees on Arbor Day, supports community gardens with mini-grants and works with Sonoma State University to maintain its Kenneth M. Stocking Native Plant Garden on the edge of campus near the Green Music Center.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5204. On Twiter @megmcconahey.

Event Details:

Santa Rosa Garden Club Plant Sale

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 22

Where: Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center, 2050 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa

Information: gardenclubevents@yahoo.com or 707-537-6885.

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