Fairy gardens--a new take on an old favorite, the terrarium--are tiny worlds complete with miniature furnishings, fairy-scale plants and plenty of mystique.
They appeal to gardeners of all ages. "Grandmas are probably having the most fun," says Roberta Smith, proprietor at a "one-stop fairy garden shop" in Cologne, Minnesota. But, she says, young moms also love the idea. "It stimulates their children's imaginations and encourages reading--the Flower Fairies series of books by Cicely Mary Barker are a favorite."
Just a touch of inspiration, a cute container, some plants and a few accessories are all it takes to get the magic of a fairy garden growing. Click through the next slides for some tips on starting a fairy garden similar to the one shown here, made by the Garden Barn of Indianaola, Iowa.
Pictured: Plants in the basket include a violet (Viola) at the front left, plumed asparagus, ivy, tiny ajuga and grasslike Armeria.
Pick a container Be creative, but allow proper drainage to prevent soggy roots. Terra-cotta pots with saucers work great, and you can hide them inside a larger container, like a fun picnic basket.
Add soil Use quality potting soil that provides nutrients plants need.
Select plants Herbs are a smart choice because they stay small with just a little trimming, grow easily and offer wonderful fragrance. Theresa Mieseler of Shady Acres Herb Farm in Chaska, Minnesota (a regular presenter of fairy garden workshops), likes thyme (Thymus praecox 'Minor') as a convincing groundcover, ornamental onion ( Allium senescens 'Glaucum') for a perfect little hedge, creeping savory (Satureja spicigera) shaped into a small bush and lemon-scented geraniums (Pelargonium crispum) to serve as sweet little trees. Topping her list of other plant picks are firecracker plant, lavender, dwarf licorice, marjoram, dwarf myrtle, oregano, rosemary and sage.
Accessorize Create paths and seating areas--and add miniature fences, furniture, pots and garden tools.
Invite fairies Leave them to the imagination, or pick characters at a fairy garden supplier.
Miniature chairs, tiny pots of plants, tiny walkways--all add to the charm of your garden. Fashion your own accessories from natural materials, or look for tiny accessories in garden centers, crafts stores or online fairy garden websites.
Easy accessories: Craft an arbor from twigs and raffia, or a garden grotto from pieces of bark. A small mirror makes a good reflecting pool. Aquarium gravel can be used as a garden path.
An old drawer is a perfect fit for this fairy garden, with its tiny birdhouse and birdbath, garden chairs, watering can and pretty arch.
Plants in this garden include thyme spilling out of the front left corner, 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga behind the thyme and variegated boxwood in the back left corner. Wire vine forms the arch in the middle, and a dwarf Chamaecyparis makes an evergreen mound in the back right corner.
This container, made at a mother-daughter fairy garden class, holds tiny handmade accessories such as a bridge and wheelbarrow made from craft sticks. Plants include sweet alyssum, tufts of Scotch moss and a blue-flowered lobelia.
Fairy gardens should have a hint of whimsy. Use seashells as birdbaths; place a pretty marble on a golf tee to represent a gazing ball. Buttons or bottle caps make fanciful stepping-stones.
This small-scale garden features Bacopa 'Snowstorm' and Nemesia 'Blue Bird' planted in a hollow tree stump. A little woodland dwelling surrounded by a white picket fence provides a fanciful home for the fairy.
Planted in a stone container, this easy garden features soft pink dianthus and just a couple of accessories. It's part of Pam Vohs' cottage garden in Savannah, Missouri.
This garden, created by a mother-daughter pair, features a hand-made castle, parasol, rose-petal walkway and other tiny embellishments tucked among Celosia plumosa, with plumes of red, pink and orange flowers, and stemmy pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucalli).
If your fairy garden is a family project like this one, create new accessories periodically to replace ones that won't last for the season. And if your child selects plants that don't end up being good companions, use the opportunity to teach about plants' different needs. In this pot, the shade-loving maidenhair fern and the colorful, sun-craving celosia won't flourish together too long.
This garden highlights a stone castle almost as sturdy as its full-size counterpart. Creative crafts lovers might be able to build their own castles; otherwise, check fairy garden specialty websites for intricate accessories such as this.