Thursday, June 1, 2017

Get your whimsy on with a fairy garden

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Ever since I moved to a condo with a sea of river rock where mulch should be, my gardening has focused on containers. And since that wasn’t quite enough of a challenge for this master gardener, I started inviting fairies into my garden with pint-size themed garden rooms fit for the Faerie Queen herself.

Though I’ve been fairy gardening some four years now, the craze only hit its marketing stride recently. Back then, I found maybe an endcap display of garden miniatures at craft stores, if any at all, and acquired most of my accessories from online sources. But I was in Joann’s last week and saw both sides of a long aisle packed with garden miniatures meant for the fairy trade. 

I also used to have to rely on my own gardening knowledge to find plants I knew would stay small and work in a fairy setting, but now the big-box home-and-garden centers all have sections devoted to suitable plants, as well as starts of familiar shrubs (cyprus, juniper, alberta spruce) packaged as “fairy trees.”

If fairy gardening looks complex, guess again. You can construct one in any pot with a few ground-hugging plants and some simple accessories. Accessories can be a drawback because you can sink a fortune into them before you know it. Miniature size doesn’t mean miniature price tag, and they’re all just so darned cute it’s easy to buy, buy, buy without realizing how the cost adds up.

That aside, it's a terrific activity to keep children entertained over the summer (forget the pots and do it in a whole flowerbed!), as well as something fun and creative you can do WITH your kids.


Here's how I got my fairy-gardening wellies wet...


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This was my very first fairy garden. I purchased most of the accessories you see, but I made the “patio tile” from an old clay pot I busted up by placing larger shards inside a Ziploc bag and tapping with a hammer until the pieces reached the size I needed. The “water” in the pond is blue sea glass, which I had, and the rocks I pulled from the ground beneath. 

Pinterest is full of fairy garden ideas and DIYs on making your own accessories, and I took full advantage!

The pot I used is made of hypertufa (available HERE or make your own), which weathers beautifully and is especially suited for smaller plants because it’s not very deep. Who wants to waste a lot of potting soil if they don’t have to, right? But really, as I said before, ANY pot will do. If yours is very deep, fill it up halfway with styrofoam peanuts, inverted plastic growing pots, or empty plastic water bottles or soda cans.


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Because I had so much fun making the first fairy garden, I made a mini version for my daughter that year to honor her favorite sweet treat—gourmet cupcakes. The container was a teacup-shaped planter with saucer attached. No reason you couldn't use a regular teacup; I've seen some beautiful fairy gardens done in vintage china. 

I used succulents for the plants since Erin's thumb isn't all that green, and I thought these plants might live through some neglect. (As it turned out, she over-watered, but whatever!) The "cupcakes" growing on the succulent bushes are buttons, which I wired and stuck into the dirt. The miniature cupcakes in the basket I found on Etsy.

The pennant around the base reads, "My Cupcake Garden," and the cupcake sign laying on the ground reads "All U Can Carry."


In year 2 I fleshed out the 'potting shed' theme in greater detail.


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The wheelbarrow and miniature clay pots from the previous year are present, but I acquired a potting shed, bench, seeds, gardener’s hat, tools, lantern, and more. I also bought a small bag of pebbles (in the fish supply department) and created a winding path around the plants.

I made the garden hose hung on the side of the shed out of necklace tubing I found in a kids’ craft kit. It even has a nozzle I constructed out of some odd-shaped parts I found around my husband’s workshop.


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Here’s a view from the opposite side, after the plants grew in more. As you can see, like regular gardening, fairy gardening is not maintenance-free. Err on the side of fewer plants and you’ll have less upkeep, but your garden is still likely to need a minor redo once or twice during the growing season due to plant growth.


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These closeups are of the same garden. Note the rusty-wire daybed on the left set up as a “flower bed” with pots awaiting plants. On the right, you see I added a second tier to the garden, with a ladder connecting the two levels.


Then I branched out. Or should I say UP?


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BoHo Home

One fairy garden just wasn’t enough, so I got REALLY elaborate with a three-tiered one. Wish I’d taken photos of this under construction, but I wasn’t blogging then, so I’ll try to just describe it for you:
  • For the exterior, I used four matching pots—two larger, one medium, and one small—that I got for 75-percent off the previous fall at Joann’s. 
  • One of the large purple pots turned upside-down serves as the base, with the second large purple pot stacked on it. 
  • Inside this one is an upside-down, inexpensive clay pot with a bottom the same diameter as the bottom of the middle purple pot, which stacks on top of it, base to base.
  • Another plain clay pot—this one a bit smaller, with a bottom the same diameter as the smallest purple pot—is positioned upside-down inside the middle container, with the smallest purple pot on top.
  • The tower is held together by a length of rebar threaded through all of the pot drainage holes and bolted at each level.
  • To plant, add gravel to each level for drainage, then soil, then tuck in plants tightly.

The plants I used—blue verbena, pink impatiens, and white sweet alyssum—did so well they obscured the fairy elements on all but the top tier. However, if you look closely at the left-hand photo, you will at least see a “door” to the fairy tower.


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And here are a couple closeups of the top tier, where I placed a fairy gazebo with a table set for two. Notice the candle chandelier (left), and the bistro set complete with wine (right). The patio pad the bistro set sits on for leveling is simply an upside-down plant saucer.


In a way, these gardens serve as ‘mini vacations’ in years when we don’t take a big trip.


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I had an extra mid-size purple pot not needed for the tiered garden, so that year I made it into a “welcome” garden to sit next to my front door on a purple garden stool. 

There’s the pond from my first-year garden, as well as some cats, a cup of coffee, a mailbox, and some stone stacks made from polished pebbles I got on a long-ago vacation to Colorado. Paths are filled in with crushed stone.


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And it wouldn’t be a vacation OR a stay-cation without a little seaside respite, would it? The forget-me-nots are meant to emulate the ocean, though I’ve included a bit of blue sea glass and tiny shells collected in Florida and South Carolina many years back at the shoreline.

The umbrella is a paper cocktail umbrella, which, amazingly, stayed in place. I think I only changed it out once during the summer because of rain soaks and sun fade. The flip-flops I found in the kids’ toy section of Joann’s, marked down, of course. Notice the bicycle at the back and the sandcastle nearly obscured by the sweet alyssum.

Bagged sand from the craft store covers the dirt. But my favorite touch is the crabs scuttling from the tipped-over bucket. This one is filled with so many memories of Florida and South Carolina.


In lieu of a trip to Italy, this year I opted for a classical theme, as in ancient Rome.


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There’s the same sculptured sandstone used in the beach fairy garden, as well as some classical accessories I bought last year and didn’t get a chance to use. I went for two tiers again, but this time didn’t connect them, other than in theme. 

Love that little turtle on the rim of the bottom pot. Remember him from the front door garden? His head is on a spring and bobs!!

Notice also that I used only three plants—I’ve learned my lesson—and filled in the rest of the bare space with pumice stone, which reminds me a bit of ancient ruins toppling down. In the small clay pots I planted some succulent babies I’m hoping will take hold. 

I should call this my ad hoc garden because I put it together with absolutely no planning, which makes it a great example of how easy fairy gardening can be. I simply plopped down two Scotch moss plants in the larger pot and one in the center of the smaller one. Then I just fit my accessories around the plants, and filled in the empty spaces with stone.


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BoHo Home

Here’s how the approach to our patio and front door looks this year, with the fairy garden as the center of attraction. I can’t get over how our Japanese maple has grown (right).


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Just look at it compared to two years ago! The paint color change from blue to greige (new last fall) is a big improvement as well, don't you think?


Some additional tips…


Plants that have worked best for me in my fairy gardens include:
  • All varieties of thyme, which trails and smells great
  • Rosemary, which makes a great tree and also smells wonderful
  • Irish/Scotch moss (same plant but goes by both names)
  • Small-leafed ivy
  • Small-flowered annuals, such as forget-me-not and alyssum (fragrant too!)
  • Small or trailing sedums, cacti, or other succulents
  • Most other groundcovers and creepers, as well as plants labeled “steppables” by growers

There are many sources for fairy garden supplies (more than ever!) both on-line and in brick-and-mortar stores. Just do a Google search and explore. Prices, I warn you, vary widely. My favorite sources include:
  • Factory Direct Craft (best prices on the web plus quick and cheap shipping)
  • Amazon (see some affiliate links below to get you started, then search "fairy garden.")
  • Zulily, which offers fairy-garden accessories periodically but not all the time (you just have to watch for them)

Notice, too, that my fairy garden doesn’t include any fairy figurines, though yours certainly may. I just don’t want it to get too crowded out there when I’m not around to put out some extra chairs, know what I mean?


Want more still? You can never have too many fairies in your corner, ya know.

  • Browse (and hopefully FOLLOW) my Pinterest board, Where Fairies Play, to learn more about fairy gardens, get ideas for your own, find out how to make fairy accessories, tap into sources to buy ready-made accessories, and discover which plants work best. With 2,000-plus pins, I think mine is the best fairy garden board on Pinterest. See if you don’t agree.
  • Check back Saturday as I reveal my make-do patio redo discussed HERE. You’ll want to see how much I achieved using stuff I already had.
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