In The Landscape

Miniature Magical Art

By Mary & Hugh Williamson

Dramatic world events are often a catalyst for fads.  Never was that more evident than with the Chicago World’s Fair; World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, which saw the introduction of the Ferris Wheel, the elevator and the all-important zipper to over 28 million visitors.  The 600-acre fairgrounds included 200 buildings along with replicas of the ships that brought Columbus to the new world 400 years earlier.  Central to the midway was a lagoon, and in it was Wooded Island, a respite from all the excitement. This pastoral retreat was home to the Japanese Pavilion, and the Osaka Gardens, and it was there that miniature Bonsai displays brought the concept of Fairy Gardens to this country.  The small scale was a perfect environment for fairies, with plenty of hiding spots. The New York Times recognized an opportunity for a story, and the fairy garden fad was born!  It has continued to this day. You can carry on the tradition and delight a child or grandchild!

(Wooded Island exists today, and has been revitalized as the Garden of the Phoenix.  It serves as a reminder of the glorious 1893 World’s Fair.  Most of the fair buildings were temporary.  One important exception is the Museum of Science and Industry, formerly the Palace of Fine Arts at the 1893 event.)

A Little History
Fairies have been a part of poetry, paintings and lore for centuries. The works of Yeats and Shakespeare are sprinkled with references to these magical creatures.   A Fairy is the being. Faerie is their world. Both have been romanticized, and with the passage of time are now deemed glamorous and good.
Fairytales sprang from Russia, Eastern and Western Europe, particularly the British Isles.  Ireland is awash with them!  The earliest reference to fairies in England comes from scholar and historian Gervase of Tilbury (Essex) in the 13th century.  If you research this, you will find that some of the fairies described shared nothing at all with the familiar and benevolent Tinkerbelle of Peter Pan fame; dark fairies abounded.  However, in Victorian and Edwardian times, fairies seem to have taken on a more pleasant persona.  They appear to share more in common with butterflies than they do with humans.  It is these “nature” fairies that our fairy gardens surely will attract. They are presently perceived to be beautiful, helpful, sweet and to fly with gossamer wings. And, they are invisible!

Practical Application
The planting of a Fairy Garden is a perfect way to introduce a child or grandchild to the fun and beauty of landscape gardening.  Creating an environment for fairies in something so small as a flower pot, a teacup, a bonsai dish, or in a larger environment outdoors, a corner of a patio or your balcony can generate excitement and a love of plantings. A child will always associate their fairy believer helper with magic.  What parent or grandparent doesn’t love that?

How It Is Done
Making it happen is simple.  Just like with regular garden planting, identify your garden location or container.  Mix 1/3 local soil with 1/3 sand, and 1/3 Black Cow or equivalent in which to plant. Choose small varieties that complement the scale of the pot or area; miniature ivy, tiny flowers like Baby Tears, Creeping Bluestar, Carpet Tulips, miniature Wing Dianthus and tree-like miniatures.  It is fun to add to the garden gradually, with pebble paths, stone steps, shell birdbaths and perhaps a doorway to a secret fairy retreat.  Miniature doors can be attached to the ground level crotch of a tree, or painted on and embellished with trim and a small doorknob!  It is well known that only fairies can open the doors, so Liquid Nails, or other permanent means of attachment are fine.  Fairy houses can be the centerpiece of a large planter, nestled among the plants and moss.   It is convenient and helpful to know that humans are NOT supposed to see fairies.  So, you can’t fail.

Note: Fairies often leave behind some telltale fairy dust.  What fun for our young ones to find it in the morning!  It is uncanny how much fairy dust resembles items that grandparents see in the craft store.

Finding Inspiration
Fairy doors are fascinating, as you discover the seemingly infinite varieties and clever iterations that other fairy believer helpers have contrived.  For example, back in 1993, fairy doors began to appear in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in random spots!  After the first one popped up, it was followed by dozens more. The city then created a Fairy Door Walking Tour, bringing enchanted pedestrians to the urban center.  A bit of a cult was formed!  The doors to fairy abodes, both indoors and out graced bookstores, a shoe boutique, coffee shops, art galleries, Google’s local office, the University of Michigan campus, a waffle shop and many others, including the library.  Some were naturalistic, others were very refined. Many of these very charming examples remain.  It was, essentially an “Art Installation”, and a brilliant marketing effort!  Or was it?  Maps were sold, posters featuring photos of each door were produced and books were written, including Jonathan B. Wright’s Who’s Behind the Fairy Doors?

Be sure to explore the Ann Arbor Fairy Doors and others, such as the Milburn, NJ trail version online.  They will inspire you, although commercially produced fairy doors, furniture, trellises, tiny wheelbarrows, rakes and other accoutrements are very popular and readily available. So, if your carpentry skills are not your strong point, you can still be a hero. Garden shops and online sources offer elaborate fairy castles complete with solar lighting, as well as charming rustic doors, and even footbridges, though why fairies would need a footbridge is another mystery!  Do remember that fairies are allergic to plastic, and prefer natural building materials, like acorns and pinecones! Creating a dollhouse for fairies is one way to look at it, with the added benefit that your fairy garden might just foster a love of the outdoors and gardening, far away from electronic “devices”.   What a way to light a flame for which you will always be remembered.

In The Landscape