University of Illinois Extension

Fairy Gardens

Creating an indoor fairy garden is one way of enticing children to fall in love with gardening and nature, said Nancy Pollard, U of I Extension horticulturist.

“A fairy garden is a small scene that uses at least one living plant, along with items crafted from nature to create a whimsical home for pixie creatures,” Pollard explained. “Succulent plants work well for fairy gardens. They need little water. Small succulents, such as sedums, can be used as mini shrubs, trees, or low trailing plants in shallow containers. They come in a wonderful array of colors from blue to orange to red to green.”

Succulent plants are great for a sunny window in the dry winter indoors, because they can be forgotten, and go weeks without needing water. Their thick fleshy leaves store water for drought. Succulent plants usually do best in soil mixes labeled cactus, palm, or citrus mix. Often this is a mix of peat, humus, sand, perlite, and sometimes dolomitic limestone. As with any container garden, it is best to have a drainage hole in the bottom, with a saucer underneath to protect furnishings.

“Some gardeners like to use horticultural charcoal in the bottom of the container if the container does not have a hole, or is too valuable to drill one in,” she said. “If you think you may have added too much water, and there is no drainage hole, carefully turn the container on its side to let the excess water drain out. Next to lack of light, overwatering is their biggest threat. Once the container garden is set up, the fairy scene can be created.”

Fairy furnishings can be placed under the “shade” of a small jade plant and rest on a “lawn” of sheet moss. A milk weed pod, lined with a scarlet leaflet, held in place by thread to a stand made from grapevines form a fairy cradle. Tuck bits of moss into the tiny joints to give it a more aged and softer look. Create a pillow from a tiny slice of dried cockscomb flower. Form a blanket from a lamb’s ear leaf trimmed into a square. For indoor gardens, the details are all fastened by a glue gun.

“Whether you collect what is available in your yard, or from a dried flower vendor creativity is sparked as the imagination takes wing,” Pollard said. “When the weather cooperates, take children (or enchanted adults) hunting to gather debris in your garden. Sticks, twigs, acorns can all become something for your fairies.

“For a tea party scene, the tea cups might be made from Nigella or other seed pods cut in half with a grapevine tendril handle. The saucers can be made from a Eucalyptus leaf. A table or chair might be crafted from twigs of grapevine, for the base. The back of a royal fairy throne can be made by cutting pinecone scales from a cone and gluing the scales like shingles to create a theatrical looking chair. Tuck tiny bits of moss and dried flowers in the cracks to give it whimsy.”

All these adornments add delight to the indoor scene, that otherwise would be simply a succulent sedum or jade plant and some moss. Although worthy enough to stand alone, this scene can become magical to children when an imaginary world is added.

“One teacher I know has a fairy garden in her classroom,” she said. “The children leave little notes for the fairies, and they write back to the children in script that takes a magnifying glass to read!

“A new generation is imagining fairies visiting their tiny gardens while they dream. Connecting fairies to gardens was made popular in the 1920’s by Cicely Mary Barker’s book on Flower Fairies, and has enjoyed a resurge of popularity in recent times.”