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Nurture the imagination with fairy gardens

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published February 14, 2019

METRO DETROIT — For the young at heart, fairy gardens are a way to bring a sense of wonder to green spaces, evoking mystery with environmental details that make the imagination run wild.

A child wandering a fairy garden may wonder, “Who lived in this toadstool-shaped house under the tree?” or “Who left these footprints trailing off into the bushes?”

And the experience needn’t be limited to the outdoors. One can craft a fairy garden indoors using a single flowerpot, creating a self-contained world akin to a dollhouse or train set.

“Fairy statues, fairy houses and ornaments will help transform your garden,” said Patti Horrie, office manager and buyer at Allemon’s Landscape Center in Detroit. “There is garden gnome statuary that could be a small start. A person could build from there. … Fairy structures and plants are most important. You can use flowers, grasses, evergreens, ferns and succulents in your garden. There are so many miniature fairy plants available now.

“I personally like sticking with the fairies,” she said. “I also love all the different accessories for fairy gardens. There are animals, furniture, steppingstones, ponds, trellises, rocks, etc. There are also Halloween, fall and Christmas accessories. You are able to change it year-round.”

Fairies may be a fantastical concept, but she noted that it’s important to maintain an internal logic by keeping details consistent. This allows for suspension of disbelief — and therein lies the magic.

“One of the key elements that make a fairy garden a success is keeping in mind that everything needs to be kept to scale,” Horrie said. “I believe just having one fairy (garden) creates magic for a child. Building from there, the possibilities are endless.”

Ed Blondin is a fairy garden fan who runs Hortulus Gardens, a niche garden and maintenance company in Lathrup Village. He takes a different approach to his fairy gardens.

“A fairy garden is a personal fantasy — plain and simple. Fantasies are not relegated to rules, so anything goes. The only rules are your imagination,” Blondin said. “My fairy gardens are not at all like my daughter’s. My gardens are all about the exotic. I love interactive plants like Venus flytraps, succulents and a mix of native plant stock.”

For him, it’s about using a controlled space to suggest a story rather than tell it.

“I prefer vignettes that are mysterious and perhaps a bit dark, and never adorned with figurines of fairies,” Blondin said. “I love spaces that may have been left behind in a hurry (by fairies). I like the narrative of happening upon something (that was) left behind in a rush. It allows the visitor to create their own backstory.”

Blondin plants his fairy gardens in hypertufa pots that he makes.

“You have to meander through my gardens to discover all eight of them. And when you do find one, it’s like finding a small treasure,” he said. “That’s what fairies are, right? Small treasures that you happen upon. Historically, fairies are not in-your-face creatures. They are elegant, small, mischievous, and prefer living below the radar. If you are lucky enough to come upon one of them, you are very fortunate. And that’s how I arrange these special gardens in my own yard.”

Blondin said that the ideal fairy garden can bring out the daydreamer in people of all ages.

“An octogenarian will interpret one of the gardens very different from a 6-year-old. However, finding it is equally as thrilling to all of our guests, despite their age,” he said. “To me, the entire fairy tale is ageless, and these spaces and small miniature gardens have to cross seamlessly through the generations. … From baby boomers to millennials, these little hidden gems have an emotional impact.”

Grace Vatai, naturalist and co-owner of Mulberry Hill Wildlife Habitat in Hazel Park, said that one way to liven up a garden is by including plants that attract beneficial organisms.

“Pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are nature’s fairies. They visit our gardens, pollinate our flowers and even make our food grow. When you think about it, the real magic is in realizing that these simple processes happen around us every day, yet they sustain the world,” Vatai said. “To attract nature’s fairies to your fairy garden, be sure to include a few basic elements. Pollinators need sources of pollen and nectar found in flowers. Red lobelia — cardinal flower — is a native plant which would make a beautiful addition to a fairy garden. It’s highly attractive to pollinators, including hummingbirds, and produces striking red flowers when in bloom.

“Milkweed, which produces flowers in several colors depending on the variety, will attract beautiful monarch butterflies,” she continued. “For a container-sized fairy garden, I recommend lance-leafed coreopsis. It’s a native flowering plant that is loved by pollinators, low maintenance, drought tolerant, and can do well in a container or in the ground.”

She added that bird feeders, birdbaths, fountains or other water features will attract other wildlife to the fairy garden. Even with a fairy garden in a single flowerpot, a small bowl for water and a small bowl for seed will attract curious critters.

“No matter how big or small your garden is, and no matter how much or little time you have, you too can bring the magic of nature into your life and help wildlife with a fairy garden,” Vatai said.