9 Dish Garden Designs That Will Bring the Outdoors In

dish garden of succulents and decorative driftwood
Photo: Carson Downing

Dish gardens allow you to enjoy smaller plants up close and experiment with arranging them in creative ways that mimic real-life landscapes from deserts to forest floors. Use these dish garden ideas as inspiration to create your own tiny tabletop scenes.

01 of 09

Cactus Dish Garden

Cacti growing in sand in dish planter
Jason Donnelly

Create your own tiny desert indoors with this cactus dish garden project. If you've already got a few of these low-maintenance plants around your house, this miniature garden can turn them into an exciting centerpiece. Just be extra careful when assembling this arrangement and make sure to wear thick gardening gloves while handling these plants because their spines can painfully prick unprotected fingers.

02 of 09

Bonsai Dish Garden

table setting with dish garden plant centerpiece
Carson Downing

A bonsai ficus tree adds height and immediately grabs your attention in this easy dish garden. To enhance the landscape effect, surround the ficus with spike moss to mimic grass. While the ficus only needs water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch, the spike moss will benefit from a light misting a few times a week.

Editor's Tip: To keep the ficus compact enough for this tabletop garden, prune it a few times each year in a way that shows off its branch structure.

03 of 09

Rosette Dish Garden

Succulent dish garden
Carson Downing

A rosette is how botanists describe plants that grow leaves from one central, very short stem. Many succulents have this shape, which can make their leaves almost look like petals on a flower when viewed from above. Here, the longer, pointed leaves of striped agave (top right) and a pink bromeliad in the center contrast with the tighter rosettes of easy-care succulents like hens-and-chicks and echeveria.

Editor's Tip: Displaying this dynamic dish garden on a low table or underneath a glass shelf makes it easier to admire the flower garden effect of this arrangement.

04 of 09

Jungle Dish Garden

Indoor forest dish garden
Carson Downing

Add a mini tropical forest to your coffee table by planting a dish garden with false aralia, colorful rex begonia, purple trailing inch plant, and zebra plant (Calathea sp.). False aralia grows at least six inches taller than the rest of the plants in the container, which makes this tabletop garden design look like a tiny jungle.

Editor's Tip: When using shallow containers, mound the soil a few inches above the rim to give roots more room. Then, make sure to add water slowly so it doesn't just run off over the sides.

05 of 09

Cactus and Succulent Dish Garden

Cactus dish garden
Carson Downing

Because they can survive without water for weeks at a time and there are lots of smaller varieties to choose from, cacti and succulents make good choices for dry dish gardens. You can recreate a desert scene by combining a few different cacti and succulents with an interesting piece of driftwood and a rock or two. Leave a little room between them and add a thin layer of fine gravel to complete the look.

Editor's Tip: Give each plant a few teaspoons of water every few weeks right around their base to keep them happy.

06 of 09

Houseplant Dish Gardens

Dish Garden
Carson Downing

You can place your favorite tropical houseplants such as umbrella plant, elephant's ear, and pink polka dot plant in their own decorative bowls and mugs to create a whimsical dish garden collection. For a unified look, choose pieces that have a similar color scheme and style like the vintage Mexican pottery used here. Then, group them together to create a unique tropical garden.

Editor's Tip: If the mugs and bowls you use don't have drainage holes, make sure to water sparingly to avoid drowning the plants.

07 of 09

Springy Tabletop Garden

pussy willow potted plants spring
Marty Baldwin

Spring arrives early with this pretty tabletop garden. It combines a graceful dwarf weeping willow tree with a selection of small spring-flowering bulbs and annuals to create a colorful ephemeral display. Once outdoor temperatures are warm enough, you can transplant the willow into the garden and enjoy it throughout the season.

08 of 09

Tabletop Water Garden

Simple Tabletop Water Garden
Bryan E. McCay

This pond-like dish garden is simple to make: grab a shallow container, buy a few water garden plants, and turn on the tap. If you want to move it outdoors while the weather is warm, it makes an eye-catching centerpiece for summertime gatherings. Every week or so, you may need to empty it out and add fresh water to keep it from becoming stagnant without a filtration system.

09 of 09

Mini Moss Garden

Moss growing in a dish planter
Marty Baldwin

A collection of moss creates a serene, green scene in this dish garden. A small fern and a piece of driftwood add contrasting texture, but you could also use other forest floor finds like pine cones and leaves. A shallow dish will work well for mosses because they don't need much soil to thrive.

Editor's Tip: Keep mosses looking fresh by misting them with water daily.

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