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Nashville's Mini Gardens

Nashville Mini Garden’s Matt Cost creates big interest in tiny spaces with plant-scapes for the home.

Written By:  Megan O’Neill

Photographers:  Emilie Milcarek

There’s a succulent-covered rock wall at Cheekwood Botanical Garden. Most don’t know it’s there, since it’s tucked away behind the Frist Learning Center, but Matt Cost can tell you just where to find it. Cost discovered the wall while working at Cheekwood as a gardener, and it’s been his favorite garden in Nashville ever since. Long before succulents—plants that store water in their roots, stems, or fleshy leaves—became commonplace, as evidenced by window displays at Anthropologie and bloggers’ Instagram feeds, Cost has been a fan.

“They're kind of architectural,” Cost says of the drought-tolerant plant, which includes cacti, aloe vera, and agave. Some grow in a spiral sequence, while others have spiky leaves, stems, or rosettes. “They have a little bit of a modern, cleaner look, more so than a fern, and more like a piece of art.”

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Cost is the founder and designer at Nashville Mini Gardens, a company he started a few years back. Previously, he had 10 years’ experience in garden design and landscaping. His fascination for gardening developed while he was working at a Home Depot in the garden center during college. Soon after, he started the firm Mulberry Street Gardeners and, eventually, Great Outdoor Landscaping, both of which he was the owner and designer for; he created one-of-a-kind gardens and backyard landscaping scenes for clients across Middle Tennessee. The mini-garden business was a natural extension, he says.

“I try to put together looks that you don't see anywhere else,” he says. His expertise can be seen in the artistically assembled mini gardens, which tend to incorporate his favorite varieties, including jade, agave, and snake plants. “I think there’s a niche for this kind of design—pairing really great containers with really cool, low-maintenance plants that I've tested and know will survive.”

Along with their variety in appearance, the fundamental appeal of succulents, which is harnessed in Cost’s designs, is their (non-)care instructions: bright, but not direct, sunlight and just a little bit of water—making them ideal for the absent-minded gardener.

“Tender love and neglect,” Cost laughs. “I’ve narrowed it down to plants that are bullet proof.”

His gardens start at $15 for an architecturally pleasing, small-potted houseplant. Larger creations are $100 to $200. If properly placed (south-facing windows are prime real estate) and rarely watered (every 10 to 17 days), Cost’s succulent-based gardens, which he creates as custom orders potted in anything from shellfish shells to thrift-shop basins, should last indefinitely.

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