It’s Not Tough To Be a Trough Gardener

I  joined fellow members of the Garden Club of Irvington on a recent visit to Oliver Nursery in Fairfield, CT, where we got an expert demonstration on how to plant troughs.

Although “trough” is one of the weirder one-syllable words in the English language — shouldn’t it be spelled tr-aw-ff ? — troughs are not tough to put together, we learned, and can endure many years as garden focal points. Like miniature landscapes, they feature an array of compatible tiny elements — usually succulents, evergreens, or other rock garden plants — arranged with small rocks and top-dressed with fine gravel.

Our club is preparing and entering a trough garden to compete in the Zone III Garden Club of America flower show presented by Three Harbors Garden Club in Woodbury, NY, which will be open to the public free of charge June 9 and 10.

The competition rules are as follows: “A collection of three or more shade-loving perennials exhibited in a trough 12″ or less made of hypertufa, cement, or a natural material. Minimum of six months ownership. (That means the plants must be grown in your own garden; you can’t run out and buy and plant them a day or two before the show.) Several of us grow shade-loving perennials, and we met last week at my friend Renee Shamosh’s garden to plant the trough. Here are step-by-step instructions:

1. First, prepare the trough and the soil, which must be free-draining. Recommended is a layer of fine gravel topped by planting mix with a generous amount of Perlite added. This is Renee’s 12″ cement trough:

1 EmptyTrough

2. Next, line up all the plants you’re considering. Four of us brought our offerings of small rooted offshoots of tiarella, astilbe, heuchera, sweet woodruff, miniature hosta, and ferns.

2 Plants

3. Start arranging plants the trough, moving them around until it looks like a natural miniature landscape with a pleasing blend of leaf shapes, colors, and textures.

3 Arrangingfrom Above

4. Get in there to make sure the roots are planted. Proper tools are a tiny shovel and nimble fingers. The small scissors are used to trim any brown edges or errant stems.

4 Arrange with Hands

5. Rinse the arrangement off with a gentle shower from a garden hose, touch up (we used clumps of moss), and admire. Let the plants settle in a protected location.

5 finished trough

Renee had already made this beautiful, larger cement trough with succulents from Oliver Nurseries, now marked with botanical names, and top dressed with fine gravel.


I used small molded plaster containers and Mexican pottery containers. When working with Semperivum tectorum (hens and chicks), I learned at Oliver, the  “chicks” can be gently removed from the “hen” and planted separately. Thus, one $6.98 plant, most of which is in the “tree-trunk” planter at left, yielded babies for three other planters. Next, a trip to the pet supply or aquarium store to buy the mini-gravel for top dressing..


Lots more information is available from the North American Rock Garden Society.

About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint,, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
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1 Response to It’s Not Tough To Be a Trough Gardener

  1. Pingback: Desertscapes of Guanajuato, Mexico |

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