Friday, June 7, 2013

How To Make A Fairy Garden


When I was but a wee slip of a child, my aunt would take me to the edge of the woods to show me where fairies lived. We never actually saw fairies with wings and such, though she assured me they were watching us if they weren't sleeping.

Puck: Sometime a horse I'll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.

What's more, fairies can change form, so we weren't sure if the toads we sometimes uncovered were really fairies after all. Anyway, she showed me little pools of water where they swam, leaf tips where they showered, their dwellings in holes between tree roots, and fairy rings where they gathered after dark and danced the night away with wild abandon.

Fairies dancing with wild abandon.

Grown-ups tend to forget about fairies, but the magic can be rekindled and shared with others in a fairy garden. Here are some thoughts on how to make a fairy garden.

Fairy gardens are of two types: imaginary and real. Imaginary fairy gardens are those that you never actually expect fairies to visit. They're created for people to enjoy looking at. They are by far the safest. Real fairy gardens are created for the purpose of attracting fairies to visit and haunt. They have their differences, but both share many characteristics, which I'll mention as I go on.

Imaginary fairy gardens can be created just about anywhere, even in high-traffic areas like patios and decks, in containers and garden beds. But fairies like secrecy, so real fairy gardens must be situated in out-of-the-way places. That's one of the main differences.

Imaginary fairy gardens are often created to scale, sort of like the landscapes you'd see around model train sets. Scale is usually suggested by features like fairy statuary, structures and furnishings. Everything should look appropriate to the scale of the surroundings.


Do not think the fairies are always little. Everything is capricious about them, even their size. They seem to take what size or shape pleases them. 

Except for the fact that fairies are generally thought of as "wee folk", i.e. smaller than humans, they come in many sizes. Sometimes fairies can even change sizes at will, so scale is not so important with real fairy gardens.

Imaginary fairy garden.

Since imaginary fairy gardens aren't intended to be used by fairies, features such as hovels, furnishings, wishing wells, etc. don't need to be functional. For example, doors and windows may be painted on tree trunks. However, real fairy garden dwellings and furnishings, even if made of found objects, should be usable though simple.

Imaginary fairy gardens are created for viewing by people, so they're easier to be enjoyed if elevated like model train sets. Raised beds and container gardens are nice. Real fairy gardens need not be elevated, but may be. People may stand up, stumble upon or get down on their knees or bellies to peer into real fairy gardens. But, fairies are creatures like butterflies and birds, so vantage is not an issue for them.

Plants for imaginary fairy gardens should be chosen to suit the desired scale. All must be relatively small. They need not actually appeal to fairies. Choosing them requires some thought.

Trees and shrubs chosen to scale should be very small ones. Some dwarf shrubs may be trained as cute little trees, much like bonsai. Possible choices include:
  • Ardisia - Ardisia crenata.
  • Dwarf Arborvitae - Thuja occidentalis 'Caespitosa', Thuja occidentalis 'Danica', Thuja occidentalis 'Little Gem', Thuja occidentalis 'Pendula', Thuja plicata 'Cuprea'.
  • Dwarf Azalea - Rhododendron impeditum.
  • Dwarf Boxwood - Buxus microphylla var. japonica 'Morris Dwarf', Buxus sempervirens 'Blauer Heinz', Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa'.
  • Dwarf Crepe Myrtle - Lagerstroemia x 'World's Fair'.
  • Dwarf Dogwood - Cornus canadensis.
  • Dwarf Hinoki Cypress - Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana', Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lutea Nana', Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue'.
  • Dwarf Japanese Cedar - Cryptomeria japonica 'Knaptonensis', Cryptomeria japonica 'Tansu'.
  • Dwarf Juniper - Juniperus squamata 'Blue Starlite', Juniperus horizontalis 'Glauca', Juniperus procumbens 'Nana', Juniperus scopulorum 'Repens', Juniperus taxifolia var Lutchuensis.
  • Dwarf Maple - Acer palmatum 'Ara tama', Acer palmatum 'Kandy Kitchen', Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsabusa', Acer palmatum 'Murasaki Kiyohime', Acer palmatum 'Shaina'.
  • Dwarf Pine - Pinus contorta 'Spaans Dwarf', Pinus mugo 'Gnom', Pinus mugo 'Valley Cushion', Pinus mugo 'Spring Snow', Pinus parviflora 'Adcocks Dwarf', Pinus sylvestris 'Kluis Pyramid'.
  • Dwarf Spruce - Picea abies 'Coolwyn Globe', Picea abies 'Frohberg', Picea abies 'Pygmaea', Picea pungens 'Procumbens'.
  • Rose - Rosa 'The Fairy', Rosa 'Noala', Rosa 'Interdust', Rosa 'Euphoria', Rosa 'Gwent'.
  • Sand Myrtle - Leiophyllum buxifolium.
There are many ground covers suitable for imaginary fairy gardens. They include:

Lily of the Valley - Convallaria majalis
  •  Ardisia - Ardisia japonica.
  • CreepingThyme - Thymus citriodorus 'Archer's Gold', Thymus serpyllum 'Elfin', Thymus serpyllum 'Pink Chintz'.
  • DaylilyHemerocallis ‘Little Wart’, Hemerocallis 'Mini Stella', Hemerocallis 'Stella d' Oro', Hemerocallis 'Ruby Stella'.
  • Ground moss - Thuidium delicatulum, Hypnum imponens, Leucobryum spp., Scleranthus biflorus.
  • Lily Of The Valley - Convallaria majalis.
  • Mazus - Mazus reptans.
  • Mondo Grass - Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana'.
  • Sedum - Sedum acre var. aurea, Sedum hispanicum var. minus, Sedum makinoi 'Limelight', Sedum makinoi 'Ogon', Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood', Sedum spurium 'Fuldaglut', Sedum spurium 'John Creech', Sedum tetractinum.
  • Spike Moss - Selaginella kraussiana, Selaginella moellendorffii, Selaginella tamariscina, Selaginella uncinata.
  • Wintergreen - Gaultheria procumbens.
  • Yarrow - Achillea millefolia, Achillea x 'Oertel's Rose'.
Appropriate flower bulbs include:

Bluebell - Hyacinthoides
  • Anemone - Anemone blanda.
  • Bluebell - Hyacinthoides spp.
  • Crocus - Crocus spp.
  • Cyclamen - Cyclamen hederifolium.
  • Fairy Lily, Rain Flower, Zephyr Lily - Zephyranthes spp.
  • Fritillary - Fritillaria meleagris, Fritillaria michailovskyi.
  • GrapeHyacinth - Muscari spp.
  • HardyGloxinia - Incarvillea delavayi.
  • Iris - I. danfordiae, I. histrioides, I. reticulata, I. cristata.
  • Lily - Lilium 'Butter Pixie', Lilium 'Crimson Pixie', Lilium 'Denia Pixie', Lilium 'Orange Pixie'.
  • Narcissus - 'Baby Moon', 'Hawera', 'Jenny', 'Jetfire', 'Pipit', 'Tete a Tete', 'Thalia'.
  • Shamrock - Oxalis spp.
  • Snowdrops - Galanthus spp.
  • Snowflake - Leucojum spp.
  • Squill - Scilla spp., Pushkinia spp.
  • StarFlower - Ipheion uniflorum.
  • Star-Of-Bethelem - Ornithogalum spp.
  • Summer Hyacinth - Galtonia spp.
  • Tritelia - Tritelia laxa.
  • TroutLily, Dog-Tooth Violet - Erythronium spp.
  • Tulip - Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder', Tulipa batalinii 'Bright Gem' and 'Red Gem', Tulipa hageri 'Little Beauty', Tulipa linifolia, Tulipa x 'Little Princess'.
  • Winter Aconite - Eranthis hyemalis.
You don't have to be so careful choosing plants for a real fairy garden, for real fairies don't care much about landscaping fashion and design to be happy. All they need are rudimentary things, which they can find for themselves. But they can be lured, if you dare, to inhabit places nearby where you can enjoy them or, at least, hope they appreciate your hospitality.

Fairies favor quiet and hidden places, shade, fungi, holes in the ground between tree roots, small still water puddles like seeps or those in the hollows of big magnolia petals and leaves, foxgloves, coral bells, columbine, violets, ferns, lavender, forget-me-nots, rosemary, and nearly whatever appeals to you, too. They don't need freshly washed pillows and sheets.

I feel I should mention the matter of invasive species, human, plant and otherwise.

Imaginary fairy gardens are sure to draw human visitors. They may outstay their welcomes. That's something you'll have to deal with.

Whether plants are invasive depends on whether they stay where you want them. Ground covers do what they do best; they cover ground. Introduced species are often maligned, but native species are not always benign. The choice is yours. Keep them in check.

Real fairy gardens don't take much work for real fairies don't care much. They seldom pay attention to us unless they're annoyed. Fairies, especially of the Seelie Court, may be benevolent, but they can be charming and bothersome like devils.

Puck: Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down:
I am fear'd in field and town:
Goblin, lead them up and down.
- Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

They can cause us to wonder too much, doubt ourselves, mess with our minds, tempt us to believe bad is good. Take care, know they're there. 


If they become invasive, place an iron fence around your yard.

...he made the sign of the cross and bid them begone in God's name, and held his wife as if it was iron his arms were made of. Bedad, in one moment everything was as silent as the grave...
- Andrew Lang, The Lilac Fairy Book, The Fairy Nurse

And he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and as the vessel of a potter they shall be broken...
                                                                  - Revelation 2:27      
Fairies will not go near iron.

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