Within Joshua Tree National Park golden rock outcroppings and Yucca brevifolia proliferate. This harsh land is home to a surprisingly diverse group of flora and fauna. Drawing inspiration from the unique beauty of the Mojave Desert, I created a miniature desert landscape for indoors. I selected succulents native to either South Africa or Madagascar that can grow as houseplants. This diminutive desert oasis is reminiscent of the Mojave, but goes beyond just recreation— it entices the viewer to enter and explore this miniature world of vitality.


A small-scale desert scene for a sunny spot.

I used a selection of euphorbia, haworthia, kalanchoe, and crassula. The plants in this miniature garden need very bright light with some direct sun—a south-facing window is a good location for them. If you do not have a sunny spot, consider substituting Sansevieria cylindrica or gasteria for the euphorbia. When you select plants, make sure that they all have the same light needs and have shallow root structures. Most succulents have shallow roots that will form a dense mat just under
the soil surface. Not all succulents do well as houseplants, and they do not all require the same amount of light. Make sure your selection shares the same light and water needs as well as being able to live indoors. Euphorbia decaryi produces a white milky sap, called latex, that causes skin irritation, so always wear protective clothing and gloves when you’re working
with them.

Use one to two taller plants, a mid-range plant, and a few lower-lying plants. Sometimes when you first
purchase a plant it can look like a low-growing plant, so be sure to look at the tag or label to learn the final height of a plant when you make a selection. The tallest plant will go toward the center of the planting and the lower-growing plants around the edges, with the intermediate-height plants going to the left and right of the tallest. Use the rocks, gravel, sand, and bits of wood to give the viewer negative space to move through the composition and provide a visual resting point.


  • Piece of flagstone about 14 × 6 inches (A)
  • 4 to 6 felt pads (B)
  • Five or six 2- or 4-inch succulents for indoors:
    1 to 2 taller plants; 1 to 2 medium height (I
    used Euphorbia decaryi); and 2 to 3 lowgrowing
    plants (C)
  • Approximately 1 cup of white sand (D)
  • Approximately 1 cup of crushed gravel (E)
  • 5 to 10 rocks in different sizes (F)
  • Wood chunks (driftwood and found wood, for
    example) (G)


  • Large tweezers (for moving gravel and rocks)
  • Small paintbrush (for removing loose sand)


Turn the flagstone over and place the felt pads on the bottom so that it will not scratch the surface you put it on.


Squeeze the sides of the pots at the bottom to loosen the plants and take the plants out of their pots.


Separate the larger 4-inch plants into multiple smaller pieces and remove the excess soil. The repeated forms will give instant continuity to your garden.


Starting on the right or left side of the flagstone, put a small amount of soil down about an 1½ inches in from the edge, leaving a border around the perimeter of the flagstone.


Place about ⅓ of one of the short, low-growing plants, such as the haworthia, on top of the soil, angling it so it covers much of the soil but still leans upward. You may need to prop up the plant with a rock if it is top heavy.


On the opposite side of the flagstone place the other low-growing plant. Tuck the roots on top of the mound of soil and cover them with soil.


Place half of the Euphorbia decaryi or another mediumheight plant next to the low-growing plant. Using a little extra soil from the container you removed the euphorbia from, press down around the base of the plant, so that the euphorbia is stable in the soil. Continue planting, placing the tallest plants toward the center and lowgrowing plants at the edge. Leave a few empty areas for rocks and negative space.


Once all of the plants have been placed pour sand over the soil, using your hand as a funnel.



Position the gravel and any remaining rocks. I used more gravel than sand. Cover all the exposed dirt with sand, gravel, rocks, or wood chunks. If there are any bits of gravel or sand that are out of place, gently remove them with either your fingers, tweezers, or a small brush.


During winter months, when the plants are dormant, water the planting once a month. During warmer months (spring and summer), it will be necessary to water more often, probably every week. Let the soil dry out between watering. To avoid overwatering, water only enough to keep leaves from withering. If the leaves or rosettes of any of the plants shrink, pucker, or
become dull they need water. The flat surface of the flagstone and the small amount of soil requires extra care when watering, so that you don’t wash the soil off the planter. You can either mist heavily or gently pour water slowly from a container with a spout or small opening.


The succulents in this planting prefer bright light, with a little direct sun. A south-facing window works well for this project. Watch the leaves for indications that the light level is correct. An underlit succulent will begin to stretch, with an elongated stem and widely spaced leaves. If you live in an area with a dry summer or have a covered porch you may put your flagstone garden outside for the summer.


Succulents are much more cold-tolerant than many people assume. As in the desert, where there is often a marked contrast between night and day temperatures, succulents thrive with cooler nights. Ideally, succulents prefer daytime temperatures between 70°F and about 85°F and nighttime temperatures between 50°F and 55°F.


Succulents experience their strongest growth during spring and summer. Growth slows in fall, and winter is a time of rest. Fertilize in the warmer months, a minimum of once a year and a maximum of once a month with a balanced cactus fertilizer, or once a year with a slow-release, granular, cactus fertilizer.


Now it’s your turn to get your hands dirty!

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