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Garden Topics: Fairy Gardens

"Just living is not enough" said the butterfly fairy, "one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower." -Hans Christian Anderson

Fairy gardens are becoming increasingly popular in the home garden. For centuries, the world has been fascinated with the idea that “wee folk” live among us and have the power to spread magic and mischief throughout our homes and gardens. While evidence of the existence of fairies is slim, adding fairy gardens to our own gardens is a way of participating in this centuries old tradition of trying to please the spirits and gain their favor.

Children the world over, of course, have always understood the mystical qualities of fairy gardens and their ethereal inhabitants. The difference is that this time around adults, too, are beginning to appreciate the joys of creating fairy gardens—kids aren’t required, but it is nice to have them participate! Even the city dweller with no outdoor space to speak of, can find enough room on a window ledge for a fairy garden.

What are Fairy Gardens?

Fairy gardens are basically miniature gardens with added touches that give the appearance of a tiny creature residing in the garden. Many fairy gardens are planted in a small, almost secluded location of the garden, somewhere that someone might feel as if they simply “stumbled” upon a magical location. But many miniature fairy gardens are also planted in containers. This method allows the garden to be moved out of inclement weather and to also be enjoyed from wherever in the garden you choose. The down side of a container fairy garden is that it does not contain quite the same mystique as a fairy garden hidden somewhere in your own garden. All fairy gardens are also normally filled with whimsical items to add to the feeling of magic.

Fairy Garden Ideas

Before you build your fairy garden give some thought to what kind of fairy garden you would like to build.

One popular idea is to build a woodland fairy garden. These miniature gardens are normally installed at the foot of a tree in a shaded part of the garden and incorporate forest themed items like small leafed groundcover, dwarf plants and a door tucked between trees roots. Building a fairy garden right into your existing garden allows for the feeling that your miniature fairy garden is the genuine thing, a place where actual fairies live.

Other fairy garden ideas include a flower fairy garden. In a flower fairy garden, you can expect to find a small cottage surrounded by flowers and grass with perhaps other miniature fairy garden decor added.

One other fairy garden idea is to construct a fairy dock on the edge of a pond. A small boat or raft tacked into water feature with a shelter and other “clues” to indicate that the wee folk live on your shores.

However you decide to build your miniature fairy garden, whether it is a woodland fairy garden or a container fairy garden of your own imagination, the important thing to remember is that fairy gardens are all about having fun. Get crazy, get silly, and to be sure the fairies will appreciate (and reward) your efforts.

You don’t need to believe in fairies to have a fairy garden on your deck or patio — although it couldn’t hurt. Children and adults alike will delight in planting and caring for these miniature gardens brimming with charm and intrigue.

Start with Plants

Begin by choosing low-growing herbs, alpines and groundcovers. The scale of plant material in your fairy garden  is important because the plants create the miniature landscape and make it manageable. Our Jeepers Creepers groundcovers and Nooks and Crannies alpines do well in small spaces; just keep in mind the sun requirements of the chosen plants. Many of these plants grow slowly and easily can be maintained by trimming them back. Remember that plants in containers grow slower than if they were planted in the garden.

Consider the captivating fragrance of herbs; the flowers can be quite striking as well. Oreganos feature many different flower colors and varied leaves. With its small leaves, minor thyme is suitable as a groundcover and only grows about 1/4 inch tall. Curly chives have a blue-green twisted leaf and form a hedge, and gray-leaved Greek sage gives contrast to the more common, green-leaved plants. To soften edges, Irene rosemary cascades wonderfully down both banks or over the sides of the containers.

Other favorites for the fairy garden include: variegated or green myrtle, which makes a small standard when pruned; dwarf pink autumn sage, for its small, compact green leaves and beautiful pink summer flowers; lemon-scented geraniums, which serve as small upright trees with their 1/2- to 3/4-inch crinkled, dark-green leaves; and creeping savory, which is easy to shape into a small bush.

Container Gardens

No matter what kind of container you select, make sure it offers sufficient drainage from the bottom to allow water to serve the roots and escape rather than keeping roots constantly wet.

Terra cotta pots and window boxes also are useful because they drain well and are available in a vast array of sizes and shapes. The saucers of the larger-sized pots can also make charming gardens for fairies, provided you offer some opportunity for drainage.  A favorite of many, are old weathered clay pots because the discoloration on the sides gives so much character and interest. If you choose a wooden window box, which will nicely accent a deck or patio, choose sturdy, long-lasting redwood or cedar. These boxes will need adequate drainage holes like any other container.

The potting mixture for containers is important because the plants aren’t able to receive the variety of nutrients found in natural garden soil. In addition to considering how to maintain nutrients for the plants, it’s important to consider the stability of the container. Keep the following in mind when preparing your soil mix: porosity, adequate drainage and water retention. Although all plants don’t tolerate the same soil conditions, you can’t go wrong using a premixed soil such as Gardner’s Gold.

Planting, Care and Maintenance of Miniature Fairy Gardens

Begin placing plants in an appealing manner. There really is no wrong way to do it; but staggering different heights really makes the garden seem more "real". Scale and proportion are everything when choosing plants. Think small, while making sure that the plants chosen are in proportion with the overall size and shape of your fairy garden and the accessories.

Dwarf and miniature shrubs that work well for fairy gardens Bonsai trees (planted in pots concealed beneath the garden surface) fit in perfectly.

Once you have the plants where you want them, finish the planting job and then you’re ready to add accessories to the container. To create a landscape, include a path, trellis, chair or pond. Add a fairy-sized trowel, rake, watering can, hoe or wagon.  Water placed in a small clay saucer simulates a pond, and pea gravel, wood chips or broken clay pots can pave a path. If planting in a container, leave about 1/2 inch of space at the top edge for watering.

Sunlight is vital to the success of your fairy garden if herbs or alpine plants are used. (We recommend 6 to 8 hours in a sunny spot). During the hot summer months, daily watering may be needed but monitor soil moisture according to the light and temperature. Let the pot dry out between watering rather than keeping the roots constantly wet. For beginners concerned about getting the watering done just right, try using a Water Stick (it is a little device that is stuck in the soil and will flash an alert when watering is needed)  Trim plants as needed to keep your fairy garden looking neat and tidy. When plants are actively growing, you should add an organic fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Fish & Sea Weed, according to package instructions. In cool climates bring your fairy garden indoors before a frost and place in a sunny window.

Adding Your Own Fairies

As real fairies are somewhat temperamental and difficult to come by, you may want to populate your fairy garden with store-bought inhabitants.

A Dusting of Imagination

Let creativity be your guide. Make a lovely gray santolina into a shade tree for a little bench, or construct a cobblestone path meandering through a forest of lavender carpeted by thyme. Pathways may be made with various materials such as tiny gravel or even sand and wood chips. Try to lay them out so the "walk ways" do not go in a straight line. Gradual bending and winding paths tend to seem more relaxed.

Build miniature fences and add tiny furniture or fairy figurines that will focus the eye on each tiny detail.  Placing a bonsai tree on a slight hill adds the illusion of the other plants being under the canopy of a standard sized tree. If one wanted to, the roots of the bonsai can be partly exposed to allow mosses and the like to grow on the visible wood. This enhances the "magical" properties of the entire planting.

Let me again mention the incorporation of water.  Small ponds are an added visual candy store. Anything that can hold water can be used as a fairy garden pond. You will not be keeping fish in it so it need not be fish safe. Lids, saucers, single serve applesauce containers, and much more are fully appropriate as miniature ponds.

There’s no limit to the variety and impromptu intrigue you can offer with your fairy garden. Whether you’re designing it for your own enjoyment, or for others, have an enchanting time and maybe, just maybe, the fairies will pay a stealthy visit some night by the light of the moon. 

Fairy Gardens Fairy Garden Container

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