To commune with nature doesn't necessarily mean you have to don backpack and adventurous spirit and make your way through the wild. Earl Smith believes that having a miniature version of nature to look at can serve the contemplative process just as well. For the past 15 or so years, Smith has been propagating dwarf plants that he combines with various types of rocks to create small-scale scenes from nature. His biggest project so far, located in a corner of his nursery grounds, is a "nature in miniature" landscape (in the picture above) which he constructed over several years with more than 15 kinds of dwarf evergreens (the tallest being three feet) and minature shrubs centered around a hillside of rock and a waterfall. Smith can work with a picture of your favorite spot, whether it's the lush green of a mountain glen or the stark beauty of a desert cliff, and produce a miniature replica of it (stationary or portable) for a balcony or a backyard. If you use your imagiantion, you can transcend your surroundings by gazing at your new garden and letting your fancy take you there.

Nature in minature gardens. Earl Smith Nurseries, 9638 Burke Lake Rd., Burke. Portable gardens begin at about $35. Open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. 9785332 .