Growing Little Worlds

Growing little worlds. Where have I we heard that before? Ah ha! Now I remember. Last year Brett wrote a wonderful post showing how to build a minute garden to photograph in. This post was incredibly popular. In fact it was our most viewed post in 2017 and it also had the most comments. And rightly so. It’s very inspiring.

I’ve created my own outdoor studio before, but this particular post is so inspiring I wanted to build my own little world. Unfortunately, up until now, I could never find the time. Now I have a pressing need to grow my own little world. Soon I will be giving a talk on toy photography at Bricks Cascade that has a hands on component. Beside listening to me ramble, the attendees will have a chance to practice. To facilitate this I want to bring a little bit of the outdoors into the convention hall. By having a mini outdoor studio like Brett’s little world, I can engage in a more hands on demonstrations. Added bonus, I will have built my own little world to use down the road.

Getting started

I will confess that I was stumped by what container to use building my own little world. I searched my house, the hardware store, the container store, the yearly garden show AND my favorite nursery. Nothing jumped out at me as the perfect container. I wanted a container with some breadth and possibly room for a small water feature.

While I was mulling over the perfect container I began collecting a few plants. I picked up two varieties of moss and two super cool miniature trees. I figured I could fill in the gaps with twigs and additional moss from my yard.

The container

My first attempt at a container for my little world was a square plastic storage container. I knew the plastic wouldn’t hold up in the long run, but the handles are a nice touch. Ultimately I didn’t keep this version. Something about the square aspect of the container didn’t feel right.

First attempt

For my second attempt I opted for a more traditional container that is 24″ x 8″ x 10″ (60cm x 20cm x 25cm). I liked the long aspect ratio. I felt it gave me two distinct photographic opportunities. It turned out that the size of both containers is roughly the same size, so the number of plants I had still worked.

Finished garden; all ready for the first photo shoot.

To make my little world light enough to carry, I re-used several of the plastic pots the plants came in upside down. They took up space and kept the over all amount of dirt down. The less dirt, the lighter the container will be.

The plants

I chose two pretty conventional moss species as the foundation for my little world. I purchased the miniature trees simply because they seemed cool. Only time will tell if they will work out or if I will need to replace them with sticks to simulate tree trunks like Brett’s Little World.

When you start looking into miniature plants you suddenly find there are lots of options to choose from. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for miniature trees, ground cover, flowering plants or succulents; they’re all available. You can purchase plants to help create a miniature woodland, dessert or alpine terrain. Don’t even get me started on how awesome bonsai trees are for creating miniature worlds. If you’re interested in researching plant varieties a great site that has lots of information is Miniature Gardening. You will also find interesting ideas by searching for information on creating fairy gardens.

The accessories

From my son’s past interest in miniature gardens I knew there is an entire industry devoted to making adorable tiny outdoor furniture and accessories. When we visited our favorite nursery I was hoping to find miniature wire fencing. While I didn’t find that, I did find cool miniature red bricks; perfect for creating a patio. I picked up a few more miniature items to decorate my garden including a rake and a pond. I augmented these few man made artifacts with some natural materials like a moss covered stick and a rock from my own garden. My son contributed a small bird house, bird bath and a bench for under one of the trees.

Like all aspects of our hobby you can go crazy on accessories. At Miniature Gardens you can also purchase all sorts of furniture to add interest to your garden. I found the hardscaping to be the most useful items other than the plants. Its not always easy to find paving stones, gates and bridges that are scaled for toys.

Now that everything is in place, its time for a few test photos.

Sunrise fishing
Face Off

I think that creating a little world is a fun activity. (Thank you Brett for the inspiration!!) It’s great to have a small natural studio to take impromptu toy photographs in. I will freely admit its not always easy to take off on a half day toy photography adventure. Having a little natural studio on hand when inspiration strikes is a nice alternative. I would recommend your custom studio be portable enough to be able to move it around your yard or home to capture the best light.

If you decide to create your own little world, I want to encourage you to let your creativity flow. This little world is a reflection of your toys and the stories you want to tell. Even if you don’t have time to build your own little world today, there’s no reason you cant begin gathering props that inspire you. In no time at all, you will have everything you need to build your own little world. Now to find the time…

Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to water you little world!


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  1. Cool post, nice to see Brett’s previous post put into action, especially when I bought some seedling containers a while ago to do my own but they still sit in the garage, not yet used!

    I love the idea of putting filling in, like you have with the upside-down pots, brilliant idea for saving on weight and soil.

    I look forward to more photos staged in your little world.

  2. Arvin

    That’s come up great, Shelley. Can’t wait to see more pics! I keep putting this off since Brett’s post. Actually, ever since he’s told me about how he’s done his set-up years ago! Must. Get. To. It.

    • Arvin, don’t beat yourself up too much. I would still be on the fence if I didn’t absolutely need to make this. Now that it is made, I can begin to make use of it for quick photos and tweak the set-up. There were a few super sweet photos taken with it at the demonstration. Now to find the time to play…. 🙂

  3. Shelly, this is so cool! I don’t need to tell you this is right down my alley, do I? Although I mostly use model building materials: landscaping clay, Islandic moss, and wood, of course. One day I should try with something that’s alive… As for water: Did you use actual water in that lovely pond? Thanks for inspiring! Cheers!

    • Tobias, I admire what you can do with your props. I’m working towards your way of thinking with the creation of a dock and hopefully a portable bridge. As always you’re a constant source of inspiration. And yes, that is real water. It is too low to get a true reflection, but I’m hoping for some spectral highlights at the very least.

  4. Tony Tulloch

    I have to reflect Arvin’s comments as I was raring to go after Brett’s post, then I saw a squirrel…
    You seem to have reminded us both to get moving on our own gardens.

    • Squirrel! I think we all have the tendency to chase the next shiny idea. I recently got a lead on a fun lens for my phone I’m itching to try and I also have some other props I want to build. I need to retire so I can play more. 😀

  5. brett_wilson

    Wow! This little world you’ve created is wonderful! I love that you managed to include some “Shelly necessary” water into it. Water is something I’ve tried to get into my little build with varying levels of disappointment. I’m inspired to give that another go now. Thank you.

    • Thank you Brett! It was a fun build that you inspired. The water was an obvious must have! I got lucky at the nursery. Im thinking of replacing the stick with a ‘dry’ river bed. I will keep playing and tweaking… Thanks again for the inspiration!

  6. Jenelle (Mrs.Playwell)

    Thanks so much for schleping your Little World down to share with us at Bricks Cascade Shelly! And for being willing to present at our con!! I saw some great photos come out of your presentation, and personally spoke to several participants who were HUGELY inspired by your talk and demos that morning. Toy Photography Evangelist job well done my friend! I think I might have even managed to talk one or two of them into joining us at the meetup this May (at least for a day or two). And also thank you for the gentle reminder/kick-in-the-butt I needed to get back to the Little World project I have slowly been assembling on my back porch ever since Brett’s original post! 💛

    • Awe, thank you Jenelle! But it is I who need to thank you! You have been an inspiration to so many with your leadership on the photography / art section of Bricks Cascade. I know you will inspire other cons to add photography to the mix. I had a great time to talking to the attendees before and after the event.

      I also encouraged a couple of them to join, if only for a day or two. Since we are so close, it would be a shame if they didn’t stop by. I hope we have inspired a few folks to submit their photos for next year. I would love to see this continue section to grow.

      I look forward to seeing you at the meet-up in May and of course next year at Bricks Cascade!

  7. Yes! My kind of topic. You’ve built a pretty amazing setup. I will have to go to the nursery soon to see if they stock up on those garden miniatures. Being the lazy person, I just toss in the soil and stick twigs to make my forest. I shall have to look into creating a more detailed world!

    • There are many words I can think of to describe you Sunny, but lazy is not one of them! If you do check out the nursery for miniatures, I have no doubt you will find props to inspire you. Thanks for joining the conversation my friend!

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