Mother Earth Living

Gardening with Fairies

Will these tiny, sprightly landscapes actually attract fairies? To find out, follow these guidelines, and keep your eyes open for magic.
By Theresa Mieseler
February/March 2005
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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 Herbs

Begin by choosing low-growing herbs. The scale of plant material in your fairy garden container is important because the plants create the miniature landscape and make it manageable. Easily kept small by trimming, the plants listed on Page 18 do well in small spaces. 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.

Not only is the fragrance of these herbs captivating, the flowers are quite striking as well. Oreganos feature many different flower colors and varied leaves. With its small leaves, minor thyme (Thymus praecox ‘Minor’) is suitable as a groundcover and only grows about 1/4 inch tall. Curly chives (Allium senescens ‘Glaucum’) have a blue-green twisted leaf and form a hedge and gray-leaved Greek sage (Salvia fruticosa) gives contrast to the common, green-leaved plants. To soften the edges, Irene rosemary cascades wonderfully down the side of the container.

My 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.

Choose a Container

No matter which 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. Durable hypertufa troughs and pots will withstand many different kinds of weather conditions and won’t blow over. Available in many shapes and sizes, they fit nicely into the landscape and small plants don’t get lost in a mob of other plants on the ground. Troughs can be made or purchased and are constructed of a mixture of Portland cement with peat moss and perlite. (View instructions for making your own hypertufa pot or trough on The Herb Companion’s website at www.HerbCompanion.com .)

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 make charming gardens for fairies, too (provided you offer some opportunity for drainage). My favorite containers 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. 

Soil Mixture

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. Peat mixes are lightweight, dry out quickly and won’t keep the pot from blowing over in the wind. Keep the following in mind when preparing your soil mix: porosity, adequate drainage and water retention (depending on the type of plant and its requirements). You can purchase premixed soil or mix your own with the following combination:

• 2 parts sterilized soil
• 1 part peat moss or compost 
• 1 part perlite

Planting, Care and Maintenance

After you’ve chosen the container and plants, fill half of your pot with the soil mixture, and then begin placing plants. 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. Leave about 1/2 inch of space at the top edge of the container for watering.

Sunlight is vital to the success of your fairy garden (I give mine 6 to 8 hours in a sunny spot). During the hot summer months, daily water is needed but monitor this according to the light and temperature. I prefer to water and let the pot dry out between watering rather than keeping the roots wet. Trim plants as needed to keep your fairy garden looking neat and tidy. When plants are actively growing, you can add organic fertilizer 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. The plant fairies of Cicely Mary Barker are my favorite because they are unique and designed around herbs and flowers. Barker was a self-taught artist who drew her first fairies based upon the faces of her sister’s kindergarten class students.

Fairies come in many shapes, sizes and materials (see resources below). Poly resin construction is the most durable and will last the longest. A fairy 3 to 5 inches tall is ideal. To stabilize fairies in their new garden, you can glue each to a bench or chair, or simply stick them in place with the attached rod or stick with which they often come equipped.

A Dusting of Imagination

Let creativity be your guide. When I offer workshops for creating fairy gardens, I am always amazed at what participants come up with. One person will make a lovely gray santolina become a shade tree for a little bench while another develops a cobblestone path meandering through a forest of lavender carpeted by thyme. Miniature fences and garden tools or fairy figurines draw the eye past each plant, focusing on the tiny details. Mothers and daughters, grandmothers and grandchildren, friends, coworkers and family gather together and enjoy an evening of fun and chatter as they plant their pots.  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 Garden Herbs

• Chives, curly (Allium senescens ‘Glaucum’)
• Curry, dwarf (Helichrysum italicum subsp. Microphyllum)
• Firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea)
• Germander
    Creeping (Teucrium canadense)
    Silver (Teucrium fruticans)
• Lady’s mantle, alpine (Alchemilla alpina)
• Lavender
    Fringed variegated (Lavandula dentata ‘Linda Ligon’)
    Fringed-leaf (Lavandula dentate)
• Licorice, dwarf (Plecostachys serphyllifolia)
• Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)
• Marjoram, golden (Origanum vulgare ‘Dr. Ietswaart’)
• Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens)
• Moujean tea (Nashia inaguensis)
• Myrtle
    Dwarf variegated (Myrtus ‘Microphylla Variegata’)
    Dwarf (Myrtus communis ‘Microphylla’)

• Oregano 
    Creeping (Origanum vulgare ‘Humile’)
    Dwarf (Origanum micropyllum)
    Origanum ‘Erntedank’ 
    Origanum rotundifolium ‘Kent Beauty’
    Origanum libanoticum
    Origanum ‘Santa Cruz’
    Origanum vulgare ‘White Anniversary’
• Rosemary
    Rosmarinus ‘P.J.’
    Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Dancing Waters’
    Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Renzels’
    Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Majorca Pink’
• Sage
    Salvia clevelandii
    Salvia greggii ‘Dwarf Pink’
    Greek (Salvia fruticosa)
• Santolina, dwarf (Santolina squarrosa)
• Savory, creeping (Satureja spicigera)
• Scented Geranium
    Pelargonium ‘Lemon Kiss’
    Lemon (Pelargonium crispum)
    Strawberry (Pelargonium ‘Lady Scarborough’)
• Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea ‘Tricolor’)
Thyme
   Thymus ‘Bressingham Seedling’
   Thymus ‘Lemon Frost’
   Thymus praecox subsp. arcticus ‘Minor’
    Thymus quinquecostatus 
    Silver (Thymus ‘Argenteus’)
    Thymus leucotrichus 
    Upright Lemon (Thymus xcitriodorus)

How to See the Fairies

Recently my long time friend and NASA research scientist, Rexford Talbert, gave me the following information from Eleanour Sinclair Rhode, author of A Garden of Herbs. We had a good laugh over this fairy tale tautology: To make the oil to see the fairies you have to know where the fairies are.

To enable one to see the Fairies: A pint of sallet oyle and put it into a vial glasse; and first wash it with rose-water and marygolde water; the flowers to be gathered towards the east. Wash it till the oyle becomes white, then put into the glasse, and then put thereto the budds of hollyhocke, the flowers of marygolde, the flowers or toppes of wild thyme, the budds of young hazle, and the thyme must be gathered neare the side of a hill where fairies use to be; and take the grasse of a fairy throne; then all these put into the oyle in the glasse and sette it to dissolve three dayes in the sunne and then keep it for thy use.

— “Receipt” dated 1600 


Theresa Mieseler and her husband, Jim, own Shady Acres Herb Farm where they have specialized in herbs and unusual vegetables near Chaska, Minnesota, for 28 years. Learn more about Theresa’s fairy-garden making classes at  www.ShadyAcres.com.

FAIRY ACCESSORIES AND RESOURCES

• Continental Collectables
P.O. Box 1812
Bothell, WA 98041
www.Flower-Fairies.com

• Gardener’s Supply Company
128 Intervale Rd.
Burlington, VT 05401
(800) 876-5520
www.gardeners.com

• Market Hill
11905 Market Hill
Cologne, MN 55322
(952) 466-4791
www.FineFairyHouses.com

• Shady Acres Herb Farm
7815 Hwy. 212
Chaska, MN 55318
(952) 466-3391
www.ShadyAcres.com


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