Hands steady as a surgeon’s, Pam Shank guides her tweezers to pick up a delicate staircase of log slices. Fitting the natural pathway onto a stone, what once was a simple glass globe filled with layers of dirt and moss suddenly transforms into a sanctuary fit for a fairy.
Fresh, earthy aromas of dirt and wagonloads of stones and tiles are staples in a traditional landscaping retailer, but Landscapes in Miniature is no ordinary greenhouse and Shank is no typical gardener.
“My favorite part of the job is creating a miniature world,” Shank said. “It’s fun, it’s whimsical, it’s a lot of imagination. It’s permission to play, basically.”
Inside The Dayton Market, Landscapes in Miniature sells houseplants, terrarium accents and handcrafted worlds of folklore and fairy tales that fit in the palm of your hand.
When Shank began making her creations, it was a mere creative outlet to spruce up her yard. Never having operated a small business before, she had no grand vision of re-creating the whimsical scenes for profit until her husband was injured in a skiing incident 11 years ago.
In need of a job and a way to fill time, friends suggested Shank sell her little gardens tucked around her home. Shank looks back laughing, remembering how cynical she felt toward the potential interest in her fairy worlds.
“I remember telling them it would never work because it’s too much fun because you don’t normally get to do what you like for a job,” she said. “When you have a life-changing event like an accident, it refocuses your priorities, your life. It focuses you on what matters in life, and I feel so fortunate to do this.”
Beginning at Dayton Days as a pop-up vendor, Shank whittled her pocket-sized garden pals from her home garage and opened her first storefront in Staunton’s Queen City Marketplace. Nearly eight years ago, she made the move to The Dayton Market.
“I’ve always loved The Dayton Market,” Shank said. “It’s just always been the market I came to, and I always said if I had a shop, I’d want it here.”
Inside the home and garden space, Shank’s creations hang alongside various vibrant houseplants on displays, decking and shelves built entirely by her husband.
Shank’s virtual presence extends to Etsy under the name LandscapesNMiniature, where she sells miniatures for all occasions and specializes in matching Adirondack chair cake toppers and realistic beach scenes made of resin. Seasonal and novelty items can also find their way into the shop, such as minute sanitizer bottles and toilet paper for 2020 “pandemic kits” and clay gnome nativity sets.
Harrisonburg resident and business owner Belinda Phillips said she discovered the shop on social media and was immediately interested in the inventory, but all she saw upon visiting the market in person blew her away.
“To walk through the store and to look at everything she has, it was unbelievable. All of the miniatures were so darn cute, and the pieces that they had put together with plants were just as unbelievable,” she said. “A very fun and creative store.”
Valley native Maggie Siciliano is a popular TikToker under the subgenre for bibliophiles, BookTok, with 37,200 followers on her channel @maggiemaebereading. On her account, she shares plot point responses, character skits and the occasional window into her personal life.
During the pandemic, a few of her videos have touched on local businesses, such as Magpie Diner and Landscapes in Miniature. In her video reviewing The Dayton Market business, Siciliano captions her reel, “This is where the magic in my head comes to life.” Siciliano’s highlight reel of the Dayton Market business has more than 4,500 views.
Shank said her handcrafted worlds make great gifts and are easy to customize. For the country lover in your life, there’s a sandy desert bowl arranged with a live cactus, cowboy hat and miniature rifle resting against a driftwood bench. Bookworms can even request their favorite titles be printed onto nano-novels resting on a bench scene or lovingly in the arms of an air plant holder figurine.
What can be sourced locally, Shank keeps in the shop, and some items are even gathered locally, such as thumb-sized bird nests crafted from acorn caps stuffed with natural moss and filled with tiny painted beads that mimic robin eggs. Pieces of slate decorating landscapes were salvaged from Shank’s grandmother’s home, and retaining walls are often collected from the side of the road, according to Shank.
“A customer will go to the beach and bring in driftwood … even old glassware, buckets. They don’t need it, but it’s valuable to me,” she said.
While true miniature plants are hard to come by, Shank said small foliage such as ferns can easily become towering trees in her hanging globes through optical illusion.
“They look like little plants in a container unless you add something handmade and a homescape. So, you can add a little wall and now it looks like a little garden,” Shank said. “It instantly takes them from a shrub to a tree.”
Want the pop of a mini greenscape without the hassle? Shank also sells several low- to no-care worlds with succulents and nonliving plants.
“If you’re going to get something, just a little garden like this, instead of cut flowers. You can do it once, and it’ll live for years without care,” Shank said.
But what drives Shank to continue dreaming of her downsized garden worlds is not the sales or where the landscapes may go next. She creates for the pure joy of creating and said she hopes others can find themselves in her handcrafted worlds.
“Hopefully, when you’re looking at one of the little scenes you can picture yourself there, or you can picture someone else being there,” she said. “People come in and say, ‘Oh, that’s where I want to be. I want to shrink myself down,’ and that’s the highest compliment to me.”