Categorized | Opinion

Fairy Gardens — They’re all the rave!

By Margie DensfordIn the Garden pic

True gardeners let their minds wander into the world of make believe all the time. They place a cast iron frog with a smirk here, a concrete rabbit wearing a long vest there, or even a delicate fairy sitting in a carpet of ivy. When an environment of miniature houses, plants, and furnishings is added to the mix, the fantasy of a ‘fairy garden’ is almost brought to life.

Santa brought me fairy garden supplies for Christmas this year. Last fall my good friend, Leah Ruddock, gave me a magnificent, rod-iron, tea cart she was no longer using. What a perfect combination for creating my first wee garden fit for pixies and fairies, as well as being out of reach of my black lab, Jack.

I tackled my fairy garden plans as if I were developing a new area of my backyard. I sketched out pathways and plantings, a place towards the back for the fairy house, and a few perfect spots for sitting areas and the fairies themselves. So far, I’ve placed the cart in a bed of variegated ivy in part shade, filled the deep mesh serving tray with soil, and gathered all the hardscape materials I plan to use. Next, I’ll situate the two-story fairy house and put down the living ground cover. Walkways and seating areas come next.  Then to complete my creation, I’ll install the plants, the graceful fairies, and all the teensy accessories.

In my research of fairy gardening, I’ve noticed that some like their fairylands indoors, but most prefer to build theirs outside. Those that don’t get out in the yard as much anymore create their tiny gardens in terrariums or pots in the house.

However, the outdoor fairy gardens come in containers of every size and shape imaginable. I’ve seen them put in birdbaths, large saucers, hanging baskets, and whiskey barrels. The most unique containers I’ve found were a claw-foot bathtub, a child’s old red wagon, a hollowed out log, and a vintage picnic basket. Although unique and unusual planters are eye catching, many magical fairylands have also been created on the ground near the base of a tree or in a rock garden.

When planning for the groundcover, I think all the surface of an enchanted fairy garden should be covered. Think about your backyard. Are there any areas that are just dirt?—Probably not.

I imagine you have some lawn, a few flower beds covered in mulch, a couple of trees or flowering shrubs, at least one paved or gravel walkway, and maybe a patio or deck. To cover the soil makes the garden look more realistic and finished.

Walkways help to guide your eye to a focal point or lead the way to a secret destination. In miniature gardens, scaled-down pathways have been made with 1” x 1” tiles that come in sheets connected by mesh. They were cut in strips of two or three tiles wide and mortared with sand. A few imaginative gardeners have combined decorative jewelry tiles and broken pottery pieces for stepping-stones and patios. I’ve seen chicken grit and pea gravel put down for walkways and mulch. What about blue aquarium gravel for a stream or pond or cut up pine needles and dried leaves for mulch?

Now for the living elements—I suggest you look for dwarf and slow growing specimens with tiny leaves. Vary the leaf color with a combination of green, dark shades, lime, and variegated for more pizzazz.

Remember to choose plants for your garden that have the same light and moisture requirements.  Any kind of moss is perfect for the shade. Tiny succulents and wooly thyme are great for sunny spots. Wire vine and strawberry begonia are ideal for morning sun. For this kind of landscape miniature hostas, caladiums, and daffodils would be excellent additions. I even plan to put some tiny duckweed in an oblong, brass container to make a water garden.

Unless you’re a real genius at sculpting miniatures, you’ll probably need to purchase your own fairies. In the Memphis area the Urban Gardener and The Millstone Nursery have a great selection of fairies and accessories. A couple of internet sites I’ve visited are and Stores like Hobby Lobby and Michaels also carry a variety of fairy garden supplies.

Use your inventiveness. and do it yourself! Make your very own tiny clay pots, birdbaths, and miniature mushrooms from polymer clays such as Fimo or Sculpey III.

A tire swing could be put together using an old toy truck or tractor tire and some twine. Love this one…create a gazing ball by placing a marble on top of a golf tee or put some small rocks around a buried votive candle, and it becomes a fire pit. Use wire or a waterproof glue like Titebond III Wood Glue to hold twigs or popsicle sticks together and construct fences, ladders, trellises, and furniture. Finish with Krylon paint or the clear sealer to protect your creations for years to come.

If you think this sounds like a good project for you, but you need to see some actual examples, peruse a library or some bookstores for detailed illustrations. A wonderful book I can recommend is Fairy gardens: A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World, by Betty Earl. Another idea is to go to, join at no cost, and search for ‘fairy gardens.’ You’ll find hundreds of photos to get suggestions and choose techniques from.

I hope my tea cart fairy garden will be an inviting playground for the wee folk of Armour Road. It will be one of a kind, and so will yours—only limited to our imagination. A thimble becomes a planter; a compact mirror becomes a looking glass…

March garden tips:

1. Prune and feed roses.

2. 1st of March winter sow annuals and vegetables in milk jugs.

3. Pinch off tips of mums when they reach 4 inches tall.

4. Begin feeding houseplants with half strength liquid fertilizer.

5. 1st of March start seeds of all kinds indoors.

March Garden opportunities:

•March 16 (Sat. 1:30 p.m.) Bartlett Gardening University-Shade Gardening-Bartlett Station Municipal Center 5868 State Rd. Rm. B.

•March 21 (Thu. 6:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.) Garden Wildlife Series-“A Home for Frog and Toad” with Cathy Justis-Memphis Botanic Garden (MBG) Members $5 Non-members $8.

• March 21 (Thu. 7:00 p.m.) Mid South Hosta Society with Larry Tucker-Confessions of a Hostaholic MBG Non-member $5

•March 22-23 (Fri.-Sat. 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.) Master Gardeners’ Spring Fling-The Red Barn @Agricenter, Int’l

Margie Densford is a Master Gardener, a member of the Millington City Beautiful Commission, and a member of The Garden Club of Rosemark, a member of the National and Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs.

  • Melissa

    nothing like a good fairy garden. I have been enjoying them since i was an 8 year old in southern maine! Here are some of my favorites!

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