Sterling Heights holds fairy garden workshops as city plans trail

By: Andy Kozlowski | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 24, 2021

 Residents and staff made samples of “fairy houses” at a recent workshop. The city of Sterling Heights is planning to build a fairy garden featuring many whimsical touches in a wooded area near the Sterling Heights Senior Center.

Residents and staff made samples of “fairy houses” at a recent workshop. The city of Sterling Heights is planning to build a fairy garden featuring many whimsical touches in a wooded area near the Sterling Heights Senior Center.

Photo provided by Rachel Mulawa


STERLING HEIGHTS — A short path near the Sterling Heights Senior Center will be transformed in the coming months into a fairy garden — a space with carefully arranged plants and decor that evoke a sense of wonder by suggesting the presence of gnomes and other magical folk, hidden among the underbrush and in the treetops.

A fairy garden could include a toadstool house nestled among the roots of the tree or a series of footprints trailing off into the bushes — anything to spark the imagination and get people dreaming.  

To help prepare, the Sterling Heights Community Center hosted a workshop March 9 where residents built “fairy homes,” for inclusion in their own gardens. Future workshops will be announced at, with the last class set for June, where participants will create stepping stones, including one to take home and one to place in the city’s garden.

The city will be planting native Michigan flowers known to help with drying up standing water, as well as to attract butterflies and other beneficial pollinator species. In the end, the space will be known as the Dodge Park Fairy Garden.

Rachel Mulawa, the city’s parks and recreation supervisor, said in an email that she and her young daughter, 4, enjoy a fairy garden located at a park near their home. This got Mulawa thinking about bringing something similar to Sterling Heights.

“I always loved the idea of having one and wanted to create one in my backyard, but in the summer, I am at work more than at home. I know what a special time together it is for my daughter and I, so I wanted to create a place for others to have those memories and moments, as well — where grandparents and grandkids, parents and children, and those young at heart can all enjoy a special magical area,” Mulawa said.

She suggested the idea during a brainstorming session for city programs that would be workable during the pandemic. It was then further developed with the help of Matt Sharp, the city’s parks superintendent; Kristen Briggs, the senior center’s recreation supervisor; and Jennifer Rizzo, a senior center specialist and master gardener. They began walking in well-traveled areas around the senior center on the way into Dodge Park, scouting locations.

“That was when we found our spot that was perfect,” Mulawa said.

Kyle Langlois, the parks and recreation director, green-lit the project. Mulawa agreed to work on the artwork that will appear in the garden. She also began planning classes right away to help generate interest, teaching people how to create fairy homes and accessories.

“The fairy garden concept is one of our newer initiatives as we continue to find and implement new ways for our residents to enjoy recreation and bring people to our parks,” Langlois said via email. “Creating memorable and magical moments, for residents of all ages and different interests, remains a high priority for our department. We are excited to use a small section of our wooded areas for people to experience the physical and mental benefits of nature.”

The staff at the Parks and Recreation Department have been preparing sample homes that will ultimately be relocated to the new garden, on a 10-yard path through a wooded area west of the senior center at 40200 Utica Road. The path developed naturally over time, formed by animals passing through. Currently, the city plans to do some cleaning and landscaping to better define it.

“Each year, we plan to enhance it and add to the mystical wonder,” Mulawa said. “For this year, we will be starting with a variety of native Michigan ground cover and small flowering plants, and many fairy and gnome homes. We will have simple, attractive, park-related fairy accessories up high in the canopy, as well as on the ground. The path will be on the natural-looking side, while maintaining accessibility. My hope is that this short trail offers a quiet, beautiful space for people to enjoy, and that for a moment, they are lost in a childish sense of wonder and a stress-free enjoyment of nature.”