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Here’s a big botanical trend that’s tiny

‘Fairy gardens’ require low, slow-growing plants plus lots of imagination.

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A gingerbread-house fairy garden.

B.K. Earl

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Maybe it’s the childlike nature coming out in adult gardeners, or maybe it’s the joyful expectation of spending more quality time with children or grandchildren. Whatever the reason, so-called fairy gardens are a hot trend in the gardening community these days. 

Hidden under shrubs or stately trees in botanical landscapes and private gardens or displayed at garden centers or on tabletops in homes, fairy gardens are providing an escape into a miniature world.

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Fairy gardens consist of small-scale structures, tiny accessories, and diminutive plants that offer a fun way to create little landscapes that reflect the atmosphere and charming beauty of life-size natural settings. Ideally, the minigardens are set in small, somewhat secluded parts of a garden, giving visitors the feeling that they have happened upon a magical place. 

But just as many fairy gardens are planted in containers and proudly displayed on tabletops, windowsills, patios, or porches. 

These gardens can be as large or as small as you wish, filled with fairy figurines, furniture, gazebos, bridges, food accouterments such as cupcakes or hamburgers, beach umbrellas, and more. 

Gardeners who lean toward formal gardens might create something akin to the Kensington Palace Gardens in London or the gardens at France’s Palace of Versailles. Traditionalists might choose a woodland setting; others might opt for a house surrounded by floral abundance. In truth, except for cultural requirements for plants, rules are few when it comes to designing a fairy garden. 

The popularity of fairy gardening has spawned a flourishing industry in accessories. Numerous catalogs, online sources, and garden centers offer everything from the tiniest flip-flops, cups, and saucers to arbors, gazebos, and ornate fences. You can find tiny chicken and duck figurines as well as campers, tents, and hammocks – even tiny potted plants, barbecues, and lounge chairs. Or you can make many such items yourself. Use rocks for tables and chairs; make teapots and birdhouses from acorns, or trellises and fences from twigs.

But what really makes the fairy gardens shine are the plants. Just as in any garden setting, select plants whose needs align with your intended site: shade plants for low-light areas, sun plants for areas that get plenty of daylight. Additionally, the idea is to choose plants that are on the same scale as your accessories. That means small, slow-growing plants. Here are a few good choices: baby’s tears (Soleirolia), mosses (Sagina subulata), and woolly or elfin thyme for lawns; creeping fig (Ficus pumila), miniature ivies, and red-stem pilea (Pilea glauca) to climb arbors; and miniature daisy (Bellium minutum), heron’s bill (Erodium sps.), and Mexican heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) for a dash of colorful blooms.

You’ll also find good options among dwarf houseplants such as miniature African violets, succulents, and even slow-growing palms. Small-leafed basil, rosemary, and boxwood can be trimmed to resemble trees and shrubs, while dwarf and mini-­conifers are ideal for the outdoor gardens.

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If you are eager to flex your creative horticultural muscles without the labor-intensive work of preparing and caring for a large garden, fairy gardens may be for you.