Learn the basics of fairy gardening in “Fairy Garden Handbook.”
Cover Courtesy Down East Books
Fairy Garden Handbook (Down East Books, 2013) offers how-to advice for every fairy gardener. Author Liza Gardner Walsh encourages fairy gardening as a way to expand outdoor activities in the garden. In this excerpt taken from chapter two, find out what you need to create your very own fairy container garden.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Fairy Garden Handbook.
Fairy Gardening: Container Gardens
“Hand in hand with fairy grace
will we sing and bless this place.”
— William Shakespeare
The best way to get started in this fairy gardening business is to start small. A container garden allows you to make a tiny world for a fairy while requiring only a few plants and accessories. There are some tricks to working with a container, which we will cover, but the key is that it’s portable. If you visit your grandparents, you can stick your fairy garden in the car. Of course, if you choose to build a fairy garden in an old bathtub, mobility will not be an option. The container garden is also the best choice for those budding fairy gardeners who live in cities and have small backyards. Keep in mind that container gardens are very sensitive to wind and need protection from the elements.
The first step in creating a fairy container garden is to pick the container. There are so many choices here, and few limitations. Old wheelbarrows, straw hats, ice buckets, your very own red wagon, baskets, and plain old-fashioned terracotta planters will all work as long as the container is deep enough to allow at least three inches of dirt so the roots of the plants can spread. The other essential consideration with a container is drainage. Ideally, there should be a few drainage holes that are standard in most gardening pots. If there are no holes because you have gone with the wheelbarrow option, you will first need to line the bottom with gravel or the broken shards of a terracotta pot. If choosing a basket, make sure it is lined with a garbage bag with some holes poked through to avoid rot.
Once the drainage solution is reached to prevent soggy, moldy roots, add your soil. For most types of fairy gardens a standard soil recipe is two parts commercial soil, one part peat moss or compost. Never use soil excavated from your outside garden as container plants are pickier and that dirt might be prone to weeds. Fill the container halfway with the soil mixture and get ready to plant.
A container garden relies on the use of miniature and dwarf plants. There are thousands of beautiful plants in the world, but for your fairy container garden choose those that thrive in a container and will make a fairy want to visit. The following are just a few of the more common choices to get you started.
Myrtle: The variegated (different colored patterns on the leaves) or green variety can be shaped into a small tree.
Lemon-scented Geranium: Smells delicious and can also be trimmed into a tree shape. This is only one of the many types of scented geraniums available.
Creeping Savory: Can be shaped into a small bush or allowed to trail down the side of your container.
Irene Rosemary: This is cascading rosemary that drapes over the side of your container. Rosemary will entice the fairies to visit your garden.
Oregano: Tiny pink flowers look like a miniature flower bush and oregano is great in pasta sauce.
Sage: Gray and variegated leaves make a nice contrast to the other plants in your container.
Irish and Scotch Moss: Moss is essential as it provides the perfect bed for a fairy.
Baby’s Tears: With their tiny leaves and ability to cluster as well as cascade, this is a perfect plant for small spaces.
Chives: Chives can be trimmed so they look like a hedge. The clippings are great in your favorite salad! (You like salad, right?)
The trick for figuring out the right plants is to look at your container and determine if you have enough room. For an average-size planter, say ten inches across, I recommend choosing three or four plants. But make sure they all have the same light, soil, and water requirements. Remember this essential gardening adage, “right plant, right place.” While your plants are still in their pots, try placing them in different spots on top of the soil in your container. This way you’ll know right where you want them to go before you start planting. If you have a trailing plant like Irene rosemary, then it should be planted close to the edge. Place the tallest plant in the middle. Also, think about where a fairy could get forty winks or find a hidden spot.
I always recommend drawing a plan, even for your tiny container garden. Take a blank piece of paper and a black pen and draw the outline of your container. Where do you want your plants? Do you envision pathways, hills, or a river? Drawing your plan also gives you a break, allowing you to imagine all of the fairy garden possibilities. Write a little wish on the corner of your plan for a fairy to help make your garden thrive.
Planting and Hardscaping
When you’ve decided where everything is going to go, gently squeeze the plant from its pot. Take a look at the roots. Are they a thick block of tangled white mess? This means the plant is root bound and it happens when plants grow fast in a small pot. They are so happy you have freed them! If you have a root-bound plant, simply pinch off the end of the thickest part of the root. If they are only a little root bound, gently tease apart the roots. Dig a hole for your plant, set the plant in, and cover gently with dirt. Finally, give those little guys a drink. It’s stressful moving so much! But be gentle and use a small watering can. Pat down the wet dirt to prepare for the next phase in your design.
You have created the foundation of your fairy garden. Next is the really fun part where a few plants turn into a shimmering fairyland. Pathways, a pond, a bridge; these are just some of the structural elements you can now build. Sand outlined by shiny marbles or sea glass makes a distinctive pathway. A small empty plastic container buried in the dirt makes an ideal pond. The hardscaping, which is what this building stage is called, should all be created before you begin to add your accessories.
Who can resist a miniature wheelbarrow or a watering can no bigger than your thumb? How about a garden bench the size of your baby sister’s foot? Not me, and probably very few fairies. But listen, don’t go crazy spending all of your allowance and tooth fairy money on tiny garden things when chances are you’re an expert at building and creating. Remember all those pieces of furniture you made for your fairy house. The table made from a thin rock held up by four sticks stuck in the ground. The baby cradle made out of a mussel shell lined with corn silk. Fairy gardens allow you the same opportunity to make natural elements into fairy furniture. And I believe that fairies would rather sit on a chair made from something natural than one made of plastic.
This is the time to pull out your collections. Sea shells can serve in fairy gardens as bathtubs, birdbaths, and seats. Periwinkles make tidy borders for small ponds. And don’t forget your precious sea glass, fairy gardens are made for sea glass embellishment! While creating your fairy landscape, think about the fairies. Remember how they love privacy, so make sure there are hidden areas where they can take cover. And they love taking naps, so give them a soft cushion to rest their wings on. And is there a special table where you can set gifts of milk and marbles? But most importantly, seriously, you must laugh when planting your garden. Fairies love the laughter of children, and there is nothing that will guarantee more fairy visitations than a garden created with delight.
Reprinted with permission from Fairy Garden Handbook by Liza Gardner Walsh and published by Down East Books, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Fairy Garden Handbook.