One of the best tips for unlocking your creativity in the world of fairy gardening is to use themes for your projects. Whether it’s seasons, fairy tales, rustic, formal, old-fashioned, modern, humor, careers, childhood memories, or—you name it! Picking a theme provides focus and inspiration for both the design and accessories.
In How to Create Your First Fairy Garden we walked through the basics for making a fairy garden. Today we’ll explore ways to branch out with themes. Be sure to jot down all of your ideas as one theme will lead to many more. Much of the enjoyment with tiny gardens is changing things up every so often and watching visitors discover what’s new in these little worlds . You may also enjoy how to make your own fairy pond with lily pads.
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Fairy Gardening: Creating Your Own Magical Miniature Garden by Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner provides step-by-step instructions for creating a magical garden. Learn how to design, plant, accessorize, and care for your very own small corner of the world.
Choosing themes is a great help when a project has unlimited possibilities. It narrows down choices so everything seems manageable, not so overwhelming, but still open for creativity.
Have a look at the ideas below, and grab ideas for your project.
Excerpted with permission from Fairy Gardening: Creating Your Own Magical Miniature Gardens by Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner; photography by Xuong Do, Happy Photos. Copyright 2013, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc..
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Developing a Theme
Deciding on a theme is the best way to begin making plans for your fairy garden. Once you know the basic subject, designing your garden comes easily. Think of all the occasions in your life when you rely on a particular theme to give you direction. As a kid, how many times did you agonize over what to be for Halloween, yet as soon as you decided on a costume, such as a witch, you found it easy to choose the perfect make-up and accessories? How about birthday parties? Pirates or princesses? Sweet sixteen or over-the-hill? Once you decide on the theme, it all seems to fall naturally into place. No skull-and-crossbones flags for a princess party, but pink, sparkly wands and tiaras instead. Hosting a dozen “royal” girls determines the food, the décor, and the entertainment.
A theme helps you choose all of the necessary elements that, when combined, create a miniature world filled with little scenes that seem to come to life right before your eyes. Knowing the topic of your garden helps you choose just the right materials like focal piece, container, and accessories.
One of the most popular themes is a classic Victorian cutting garden. Instead of stopping at the market for a quick bouquet, Victorian-era ladies filled their yards with every flower they could imagine. And rather than selecting a few varieties and repeating them throughout the landscape, as is common now, they instead planted a charming mix of blooms all together. These floral borders sat cordoned off by fencing from lush expanses of lawn, and stepping stones and pea gravel pathways served as sidewalks. Potted plants, gazing balls, birdbaths, fountains, and cast-iron furniture decorated most of these gardens. And in order to shrink that turn-of-the century atmosphere to one small container, a few such well-placed accessories give the suggestion of an artfully arranged, Victorian outdoor space.
Scaling down doesn’t just mean using mini accessories—it also refers to the size and quantity of your plant material. Whereas a Victorian yard might have dozens of blooming perennials in the same bed, cramming that many into one pot will overwhelm your fairy scene. Just five or six miniature plants nestled behind a little fence in a 16-inch pot will create a botanical explosion, and a 6-inch-wide patch of moss will lend the impression of a large, rambling lawn. Likewise, four “trees” under-planted with varying shades of green groundcover suddenly resembles a thick forest.
Mini-tip: Understanding Scale
As we go through all the stages of what makes a successful fairy garden, keep in mind that we are working in the classic miniature scale of 1:12. This means that one inch in miniature equals one foot in real life. So a 4-inch fairy figurine is equivalent to a 4-foot child. An arbor at your home that towers 7 feet tall would only stand 7 inches high in the miniature world. Until you become accustomed to this scale, be sure to keep a tape measure handy as you scout around for goodies to add to your fairy garden.
Through the centuries, mankind’s desire to control nature has resulted in some of the loveliest spots on earth. Many of the finest examples of landscape design originated in the courts of eighteenth-century France. Sumptuous knot gardens with elaborate scrollwork of tidy hedges were the result of meticulous work by the king’s gardeners. The fact that these gardens were only intended for visual pleasure and provided no food elevated them to royal status. Only the wealthiest of men could afford such frivolous use of the land. Most of these formal French gardens were meant to be viewed from an upper landing, where one could take in a long vista all at once. Curvy lines of plantings resembling lace when seen from above complemented borders of very straight rows of trees and bushes. Long stretches of pathways led to various garden rooms planted in grid-like precision. Statuary and urns of seasonal botanicals decorated the garden, often in repeated patterns for greater impact.
In replicating a formal garden for a smaller pot, keep in mind that straight lines are much easier to deal with and don’t take up as much room as interlocking curves. A square-shaped container works well with this style and makes planning your royal retreat much simpler. Starting with a focal point prominently centered at the back, like an arch or architectural piece, fill in the surrounding area with plants on each side. Once done, you will have a solid row consisting of plants-arch-plants across the back of the pot. Divide the remaining space in front of this back row into four squares. Whatever you put in one section, repeat it in the other three. Linear pathways of tiny crushed rock or miniature bricks aid the crisp, formal look. Any intersection where two paths cross is just the place to showcase a teensy statue.
Mini-tip: Fashionable Formal Planters
Drill a hole (for drainage) in matching saucers, and plant groundcovers in them. This creates instant formal-edged flower beds that can be arranged in a variety of patterns.
If a formal look isn’t to your taste, a rustic garden might be just the thing. Gift shops featuring country décor and craftware are great spots for finding the more rugged essentials. Many such stores offer lighted houses in the style of a cabin. Remove the bulb and cord and you have an ideal mountain getaway. The back of the piece will have a hole where the light bulb was inserted. Cover the opening with a small “shrub” and keep the rest of the plantings surrounding the cabin simple. One tree and some low foliage, such as creeping thyme or baby’s tears, are enough. A line of small, flat rocks leading from the edge of the pot to the front door creates a welcoming entrance, and a length of twig and wire fence may be all the accessories you need. Of course, an animal or two always lends a sense of whimsy and life to the scene.
Inspiration is all around you—literally in your own backyard. Do you or a friend love to dig in the dirt? If so, what tools do you use? If there’s an area where you stow away old pots and watering cans, take a step back and study that composition. Think about copying what you see in front of you in your own miniature garden. The everyday, mundane terra-cotta and tools somehow completely captivate when in fairy size. Your potting bench might not be the first thing you want guests to see when they visit for a barbecue, but a miniature version of the same scene is sure to be the hit of the party.
Walk around your yard and look for the ordinary things that state “someone lives here.” What about that pile of kid’s toys under a tree? Even in Fairyland, children leave their playthings out! A dish of water near a doghouse or a hose no one bothered to coil up are both recognizable objects to which everyone can relate and such items will make your fairy garden come to life.
Out of the Ordinary
Don’t limit yourself to a standard definition of “garden.” Your theme can be a reflection of a place or area somewhere close to home or on the other side of the world. If you live in the mountains, why not try a desert scene? If your apartment building is a modern tower of steel and glass, place a little farm on your balcony just to make you smile. Remember, these containers are representations of real life, but you are the one who can decide what fun things to put in them! Fantasy and imagination are far more important than accuracy, so if you want a waterfall in the middle of the desert, go for it. After all, this might not be the actual Mojave, but rather the arid outskirts of a fairy forest!
Selecting appropriate plants makes upkeep of your fairyland easy. If you like the drought-tolerant appearance of a dry climate, plant small succulents, cacti, and sedums. Tossing a moisture-loving flowering shrub into such a landscape makes things difficult, as the plants have different watering requirements and one group will ultimately end up suffering. When looking for plants that fit your design, don’t forget the 1:12 scale. Suddenly, the tiny berries on something like a cotoneaster become apples. Just two of these “trees” standing next to each other create the idea of an orchard of fruit ripe for the harvest.
What could be better than using a favorite childhood memory to inspire your miniature garden? Every spring, the scent of roses and pine needles still brings to mind happy days as a six-year-old when I (Beverly) visited a beloved neighbor’s yard. Magic happened as I stepped through an ivy-covered arch into a tiny grove of three intertwined pines that created a secret cave. As an ambassador to the far-off land that only allowed children, a resident dog greeted me as I sprawled on the thick cushion created by years of dropped needles to read a book. With a fountain trickling in the background in that sacred space, I drifted away from the confines of suburban reality. Even now, as an adult, that feeling of secure serenity bubbles up at the recollection of that time. A secret garden in miniature captures the essence of that memory, bringing me a little joy on a daily basis.
Don’t be afraid to choose a theme that seems a bit unconventional. Years ago at M & M Nursery, a young boy came in with his mom to look at the displays. After a few visits, he declared, “I really like these, but I’m a guy. I don’t want to make one with a fairy.” After being assured that he could create any kind of miniature garden he wanted, Tyler decided that a space-age moon garden would be a great theme for him. The result was an imaginative lunarscape filled with succulents of all shapes and accented with rocks gathered during family vacations. Plastic robots completed the scene, which had a decidedly masculine flair. The garden was wonderful and a true reflection of the fantastic little boy who made it.
So let your theme flaunt your interests. Show your love of horses by creating a meadow inhabited by a grazing equine figurine, or allow your inner surfer to take refuge in a planting edged with sand and overlooking an “ocean” of blue glass. Anything you love can be translated into a miniature setting.
Perhaps a cherished book or childhood story begs to be brought to life. Think of your garden as a three-dimensional illustration of a favorite chapter or as a representation of the overall feel of the story. Alice in Wonderland is a good example of a beloved classic that translates well to a miniature garden. Although the wonderland book is separate from Through the Looking Glass (which was a sequel penned six years later), the characters have been meshed together in so many of the filmed versions that they all seem to live in the same place. Ultimately, it isn’t important knowing which book they came from, only that you’ve represented your favorites in one miniature landscape.
If you create a storybook-land, avoid attempting to show everything exactly as it was written (or shown on film). Instead, think about what you remember most while reading the book and what left the biggest impression on you. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who comes to mind first—Glinda or the Wicked Witch? Choose one of these characters as your starting point. Would your Little Red Riding Hood be in the woods or at Granny’s cottage? Brick, twigs, or straw—which material would you pick to make a house for three little pigs?
Whatever theme you decide on—whether it reflects a fairy tale, a garden style, everyday life, a memory, or a dream destination—you now have the foundation on which to build your garden. Remember: As many variations on garden themes exist as there are people who tend them. For your fairy garden creation, choose a theme that you love, and you can’t go wrong.