How Gardening ‘In The Micro’ Can Help You Have Joy and Abundance…In The Garden and Life

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Musings

Can you imagine feeling like you’ve created a delightful feast for the eyes with only 4 window boxes?

I can.

I always thought that nothing would replace my love of designing large, sweeping beds. The expansive, long distance views gave me chills at the end of a long day of work in my garden. Or when opening the pages of a beautifully executed gardening magazzine.

But guess what? The yearning for that type of larger than life beauty has been replaced by something else. Gardening ‘in the ‘micro’.

Each morning, I can’t wait to check my garden before the pounding rays of the sun take over. I survey my small area of paradise as I walk out the door, take a deep breath, and register the colors that catch my eyes.

Then like a child scrambling to get her hand into the cookie jar, I scurry over to the window boxes to see what has been happening over the past 24 hours. There are always surprises.

I nuzzle up to the plants  and then something happens. It’s as if my I’ve  entered a jungle fairyland. The painters…Gaugain, Glackens, and Van Gogh…have influenced the way I perceive colors. But this spring, it is these windowboxes that are opening my senses up to a new way of using colors.

In this micro-jungle, anything goes. Rather than designing with a sense of symmetry, balance, and repetition, I let it rip. My intent is simply to have fun.

And am I ever! I’m in awe how overnight so much happens. How the tendrils of a vine might have wrapped itself around the leaves of another plant. Or how the deep purple flowers of the fluted silver leaved pelargonium and gazanzia contrast perfectly with the yellow leaved beans.

After taking off a few dead leaves, and checking the vines draping over the outer ledge of the wall, I do a slow walk about with my camera. And then I begin shooting. Slowly and quietly.

I sigh and think to myself how lucky I am to be here in this urban paradise…in this moment.

Here are 4 lessons I’ve learned from ‘Gardening In The Micro’

1. Slow down. Even if you have a slew of gardening tasks that need to get done, set aside at least 5-10 minutes to gaze, touch, talk to (yes I do), and photograph plants.

2. Develop beginners’ eyes. All of us get stuck in seeing or perceiving things in the  ‘same old, same old’ way. You can train yourself by looking at even one plant from different angles.

3. Be grateful. Communing with nature is an opportunity to give thanks for the magnificence of all other living things on this earth.

4. Stay In The moment. I’ve written about this in my book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening. But I have discovered that when I am ‘gardening in the micro’ that it is easier for me to practice this discipline.

5. Play. Let go of expectations and perfectionism. And let the process of what you’re experiencing sink into your soul.



Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the recently published 10th Anniversary Edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book".  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, and CBS Radio New correspondent.

Click on Fran's website,, to sign up to receive a free gift: "The 38 Creative Tips That Are Preventing You From Leading A Richer Life" and to read articles on creativity, well-being, gardening, and spirituality.  

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Fran Sorin

11 Comments… add one

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Donna June 17, 2012, 2:56 pm

Good lessons, 1-5.


Andrea June 18, 2012, 1:57 am

I am doing a micro garden in my 5th floor window of our condominium building, even more micro than yours, and i also enjoy it. For wider ones, i go home to the province!

Andrea….good for you for creating a garden on your window. Where is the province you refer to? Fran

Cathy June 18, 2012, 6:01 am


We have those sweeping beds you mention, and they are gorgeous and fun to design and execute. While I never put a name to it the way you have, we also “garden in the micro”, and it fills a very different gardening and creativity “need”. (Not that I could have articulated it the way you did.)

We recycled a broken down leaky fountain into a planter in our all white shade garden and filled it with white geraniums, white impatiens, and white alyssum.

I have urns and planters near doors, under trees, sitting among the plants in the larger beds. My husband keeps asking, “do those plants need to be planted into the beds?” I say no, I planted them in pots. He shakes his head.

In the cottage garden, we used a bird bath to create a haven for a mini cottage garden and filled it with all kinds of cottage garden plants – pansies, African daisies, coleus, and some kind of trailing annual that didn’t have a tag but fit in well. (I’m still trying to identify it so I can blog about it.) I also added some English ivy, false spirea, columbine, and other perennial treasures to some of my “potted” gardens. There is even a miniflora rose nestled among pansies in one of them.

And the mini kitchen garden on our deck does the same thing. Of course, I still have all the same herbs in the main herb garden, but there is something special about growing a salad in a box on the deck, where I can grab a few leaves of basil along with lettuce, which is flourishing in the box right next to tomatoes that are growing in large pots. And I never truly appreciated the beauty and the feel of sage until I watched it grow and spread it’s velvety leaves in my kitchen garden.

I had to chuckle when you mentioned that you check out your mini-gardens each morning. While my husband prefers to walk through the entire yard just after sun-up to start his day, I prefer to check out my planters and nip here, tuck there, look for new buds, blooms just opening, a new shoot emerging. He calls me to see a rose that is blooming. I call him to look at a columbine blossom just opening.

What you posted this morning resonated so much with me. I never stopped to think why those little beds and boxes are so important, but I see the garden in an entirely different way with them. And creating them filled a need for me that was less about creativity and more about something I couldn’t articulate (although you have been able to).

I think the entire expanse of garden can easily swamp the senses. In order to see it “all” means a ten minute stroll, walking with your head constantly turning, checking out various plants along the way for a microsecond, seeing the whole, but not the parts of the whole. In fact, the only time I really appreciate the individual elements is when I am weeding and spending time in a particular bed.

To borrow a metaphor from your recent Awake Create post, when I check on my smaller creations, I can take the garden in small “bites”, kind of like viewing a microcosm of a big city.

In the garden, I see what’s blooming. In my planter, I watch the buds develop. In the garden, I have a list of chores that have to be done so that the garden looks beautiful for the garden tour or the next BBQ. With my planters, I get to stop and smell the roses (and petunias, and other treasures).

Thanks for explaining to Steve (my DH) why these little beds are so important to me. I had been unable to put it into words so that I could convey their magic to him. I think he gets it now. 😉



As I read your post…having seen photos of your garden….it is impossible not to swoon over the beauty of it. I’m amazed that you are able to put the time into creating and tending your containers. When i had a large garden, at the years passed, I minimized them. They were just too much work. Of course, I didn’t have a gardening partner like ‘Steve’. Your white shade garden sounds divine. As always, your thoughts and words are appreciated. Fran

ann June 18, 2012, 6:57 am

I wish I would havew written this. Spot on.

Ann….thanks….am glad you liked it. Fran

Sole June 18, 2012, 12:03 pm

Wauw, looking great!!!! For many, many years, until this spring I had nothing but a tiny, tiny balcony. About 7″ deep and probably 3′ wide, but could I fill it with flowers and herbs. From the “floor” to the top of and over the railing – but I do wish I’d seen your pictures in those days, that could have given me some inspiration.

It sounds like you’re doing some pretty neat stuff yourself. My philosophy is that as long as you’re experimenting and learning, that’s the bottom line.

Diana of Elephant's Eye June 18, 2012, 1:57 pm

I wonder if you have read

Diana…..I just got on to read it. Rich and filled with good information. I know Christina’s work well and was aware that she was collaborating on her upcoming book. Thanks for introducing me to ‘Le jardinet’. Fran

Mary Ellen Gambutti June 25, 2012, 11:10 am

I love this…

Ted Wilson July 5, 2012, 9:40 am

Great information here… I love large sweeping beds and high boundary walls

Fran July 7, 2012, 3:04 am

Ted…Yep, I know. I never get enough of them. It is beauty gone wild. Fran

Kathryn July 15, 2012, 8:42 pm

I envy your mini garden Fran. I love the colors too and I can clearly see why you are always excited to check your plants every now and then.

Your garden in the micro will definitely be my inspiration. I am still in the process of planning how to go about my gardening and I would certainly love to refer to your blog for a much needed motivation.

Fran July 15, 2012, 11:34 pm

Thanks for your kind words. I’m sure that anything you do with your garden will be your own paradise. The beauty of gardening …and sometimes the frustration….is that it continues to change….which forces us as gardeners to respond to its needs….and stretch ourselves. Fran

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