DIYdiy projects

diy project: kate’s miniature tin gardens

by Grace Bonney

my house is not a great home for plants because of how little light it gets, but it is earth day and i wanted to bring a little nature to my work desk. these mini zen gardens combine several of my favorite things, including my love of anything miniature. the faux wood contact paper gives it a little todd oldham mod feel too, which i love. these take no time to make and are a good little gift idea for moms, or anyone special. have fun! –kate

CLICK HERE for the full project after the jump!

What You’ll Need:
1. altoids tins
2. scissors
3. ruler
4. pen
5. florists foam (comes in cubes of all sizes, available at craft stores, you just need a small rectangle for the tin)
6. dried moss (also available at craft or floral supply stores)
7. tiny balsa wood strip (available at craft stores)
8. 3 bamboo bbq sticks
9. low temp glue gun
10. knife
11. sand
12. dried flowers (i found most of my greens around my yard, the billy bobs are dried and leftover from a bouquet)
13. rocks (i picked these up from around my neighborhood)
14. faux wood contact paper/drawer liner paper (available at hardware stores)
15. pliers


1. remove the tops of the tins. clean the bases and dry. flatten the back hinges with a pair of pliers.
2. trace the base on the contact paper and cut out the shape.
3. measure a strip of contact paper that is 1.5″ wide and long enough to wrap around the tin with a little overlap. cut out the strip
4. stick the bottom panel on first and smooth out any air bubbles.
5. start the strip in the middle of the back of the tin. stick the strip flat, lined up against the bottom edge of the sides. wrap tightly around all four sides and overlap slightly at the back. cut off any leftover length of the strip.
6. fold the top of the strip over the top edges of the tin into the inside and flatten along the inside edges. there will be slight wrinkles in the corners but it will flatten nicely. smooth out all wrinkles.


for the rock garden:
1. fill with sand and rocks.
2.. to make the tiny rake, cut the balsa strip into two pieces: one .5″ long and one 2″ long. cut the tips off of three bbq sticks (about .25″) and glue these tips to the .5″ strip. hold the 2″ strip at a slight angle and glue to the back of the .5″ strip.
for the flower garden:
1. trace the altoids tin onto the foam block and slice the block with a knife. cut it down to about .5″ thick and cut down sides until it fits in the tin. glue the foam down.
2. cover the foam with moss pieces and glue those down. snip off any moss hanging over the edges.
3. cut your desired dried plants and flowers down to size and stick into the foam. practice your ikebana skills as much as you want because the foam is very forgiving.



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  • These are fabulous. I love them! Thanks for the great tute – Altoids tins have a habit of piling up around my house too, as they’re so cute and tiny.

  • It’s a cute idea, but I wish it was a little more utilitarian. I think I might end up getting rid of it after awhile, whereas if it was alive, I’d keep it forever. I’d like another solution to low-light plants, like maybe how to make your own planter with grow lights that look lovely instead of florescent and tacky…

  • I think you could have “real” plants in this.

    Ajuga – Chocolate Chip
    Ajuga x ‘Chocolate Chip’

    Tiny rosettes of glossy, green foliage. New leaves emerge milk-chocolate, tinged plum-purple. Spikes of blue-purple or white blooms.

    Height – 4 inches
    Light – Part
    Shade – Shade
    Zone – 3-9

    Campanula, Mini Blue Bells
    Campanula alpina

    A miniature campanula with lavender/blue bells.

    Height – 2 inches
    Light – Sun to Part Shade
    Zone – 4-8

    Dianthus, Tiny Rubies
    Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Tiny Rubies’

    Forms nice neat mounds that flower from spring into summer.

    Height – 2 inches
    Light – Full Sun
    Zone – 4-9

    Ice Plant, Hardy Yellow African
    Delosperma nubigenum ‘Basutoland’

    Height – 1 inch
    Light – Full Sun – Part Shade
    Zone – 5-9

    Yarrow, Mini Buttons
    Achillea ageratifolia

    Low-growing, mat-forming plant which features small, flattish, white flower clusters.

    Height – 1 inches
    Light – Part Shade
    Zone – 5-8

  • I am so happy I bought a tin of altoids the other day so I can do this awesome project and I already have the same contact paper at home! Truly teeny tiny and amazing.

  • cara – thank you so much for your plant suggestions! i am not much of a gardener so my knowledge is limited, but now that i know some shallow growing plants, i will incorporate them in so many projects!! thanks again

  • just when i think you’ve come up with the most clever re-use of the altoids tin, you surprise us with yet another brilliant (and adorable!) idea. what next????

  • If you left the lid with the zen garden with rocks and sand, you could put the lid on and make it a travel garden.