Pixie-Perfect Plantings to Enchant & Delight
Today’s fairy gardens have roots deeper than you might ‘gnome’! Here’s miniature gardening’s ancient backstory.
Centuries ago, Chinese gardeners pioneered the art of pun-sai, or “tray planting.” Also known by its Japanese name, bonsai, this meditative practice features a single specimen, often a tree, planted in a shallow dish. With years meticulous tending and upkeep, bonsai remain miniature.
In a similar vein are Japanese dish gardens. These are the matriarchs of fairy gardens. While bonsai are a singular, dish gardens create a tableau using many species rather than a singular specimen. Japanese landscape architects used dish gardens as landscape models.
Japanese dish gardens made their stateside debut in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, instantly enchanting the Western world. Miniature mise en place plantings continue to delight gardeners. Case in point? Fairy gardens.
fair·y gar·den | \ˈferē-ɡärd(ə)n\
A very real pint-sized planting meant to attract elves, imps, fay and puck-ish visitors with found objects, organic materials, diminutive décor and pixie-perfect objets d’art.
Perhaps a fairy garden’s greatest charm is its ease of assembly—there isn’t a wrong way to put it together! Your job as a fairy gardenparent is to create a world where your imagination can run free.
For a fairy garden, you only need slow-growing herbs, ground covers or micro-sized trees, as well as found objects and miniature anything that catches your eye. With a feather here and a pebble there, fairy gardens become magical.
Choose a shallow container. This lets the viewer (and you!) imagine you’re in a wee world brimming with magic. Be creative! Broken pots, vintage dishes and interesting materials take tiny gardens from pedestrian to bespoke in the drop of an acorn hat.
Very necessary. A rotten fairy garden has gotta be some kind of bad luck. Without proper drainage, standing water suffocates roots and chokes out plants.
DID YOU KNOW: The smell of rotting roots is repulsive to fae, forcing them to flee. Avoid this.
Use a container’s drainage holes, or drill your own. If holes aren’t an option, add a layer of rocks or broken terra cotta to line the container’s bottom, then cover with potting soil. Negative space within the substrate encourages whatever drainage is possible. Take care to water sparsely, and don’t leave out in the rain.
Regular potting soil works well for almost all plantings. If you’re using succulents, use a cactus-friendly soil-less mix, or add sand or perlite to standard potting soil. Garden soil is never an option—it’s too dense to drain well in a container and will suffocate your plants. And, rotten roots kill fairies.
Plants should share similar growing needs in terms of light, water and soil requirements. Choose different-height species for a dynamic planting.
For a Northwest fairy garden, try mosses, herbs, groundcovers and itty-bitty evergreens. Looking for less-care fairy fare? Consider succulents, such as sedum, hens-and-chicks and kalanchoe, which need less water (and attention).
Need help? Check out the list below for a little green-thumbed inspo.
- Dwarf Grasses: Mondo, Blue-Eyed, Fountain
- Low-Growing Ferns: Dwarf Golden Scale Fern, Rock Fern
- Thymes: Elfin, Creeping, Lemon, Wooly
- Living Mosses
- Sedges, Rushes
- Dwarf Daphne
- Sea Thrift
- Heather & Hebe
- Mini Kenilworth Ivy
- Hens & Chicks
- Ice Plants
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