How to make fairy and gnome gardens

Last year my then-three-year-old took several trips to the greenhouse with me and loved to play with the huge and elaborate fairy garden display there. (You know, the one that is extremely breakable and says ‘please don’t play with the garden.’ That one.)

So we decided to make one for him at home. We bought a boy fairy (out of a surprisingly large selection of boys), a little chair, three fake moss-covered boulders, and some tiny plants and went home to make something out if it.

We started with a great iron terrarium my mom had given me for my birthday years before. It is about 20 inches off the ground on legs and has a shallow base and a glass top with a cupola that comes off, making it easy to water. The glass keeps the very thin layer of soil from drying out and the rain from washing his garden away.

We built a little berm with potting soil toward the back and planted our little plants in it. We planted tiny alyssum (sweet white or purple flowers that come in 6 pack annuals), blue lobelia, and baby’s breath, and added a spiky air plant for a tree. We used rocks left over from one of Owen’s school diorama projects to make a path, and sea glass I had around (once used in a centerpiece) to make a lake. Noah wanted to add some shells, so I guess it was the ocean?

We covered the dirt with dried moss to keep it from washing away (originally from a craft store but also left over from diorama supplies). We also added some shrubs with even more diorama flotsam, puffs of reindeer moss. (I keep a lot of leftover project stuff. You never know . . .)

The garden stayed alive all summer and was played with a lot. I’m surprised the wings didn’t break off the fairy, but he made it through. At the end of the season, the mossy boulders, chair, fairy, sea glass, and a bridge I added later (found at the Bibelot Shops, which carries a large selection of extremely cute and inexpensive fairy garden accessories) were stored for the winter.

This week Noah and I got the garden out again, and I was happy to see he was still into it; another year for me to have an excuse to play! This year’s update includes a new friend — a gnome — and some new plants. A teeny tiny yellow-green stonecrop I got at the Friends School Plant Sale, some Irish Moss, more alyssum, and a Corkscrew Rush (in the pot), because it looked magical.

Noah's fairy gardenThe garden, updated for 2012. One boulder was lost and another filched by his brother (see below).

Then last week, on our annual Mother’s Day trip to the greenhouse, Owen announced he wanted a fairy garden too. This, the boy who could not have cared less last year, and who had to be dragged, grumbling, to the greenhouse with his mom. I seized my chance. Yes! You can have a bonsai tree! Yes! Let’s buy a wishing well! Yes! You can use my bird bath for your garden. Why not? (I don’t really like birds that much; I just wanted that gorgeous blue birdbath for color.)

Owen chose a gnome, so “it is a gnome garden, Mom, not a fairy garden.” (He is 10 after all). His garden features a bonsai tree, a tiny fern, more alyssum, and two small flowering plants he picked out. Here’s what he created:

Planting a Gnome GardenDirt held back by sea bed fossils from Owen’s personal collection, gathered along the Mississippi.

Adding a rock path to the gnome gardenCreating a path with rocks left from yes, another diorama. (I remember these rocks. We had glued them to a jewelry box to make a stone fireplace for the log cabin he made out of glued-together Lincoln Logs in second grade. We also had to make furniture out of matchsticks. And a gun rack. Oh, I remember that project well.)

Filling the gnome garden pond

The water looked really cool. (So cool Noah’s fairy came over for a swim.) But it soaked into the dirt in about two minutes. Oh well, refilling it is something to do.

Owen and his Gnome GardenFinished! It looks great but I’m worried about a heavy rain. I think a covered terrarium is a safer bet.

If you’d like to make a fairy garden with your kids (or just for yourself, you know you want one), here are some suggested supplies and resources. Happy gardening!

  • Online inspiration: Miniature Garden Center, the Mini Garden Guru
  • Greenhouse inspiration: Linder’s Garden Center
  • Craft-type stuff, like dried moss in tons of varieties, sea glass, rocks, dried flowers/seed pods: Michaels. Check the floral arranging section, or the school model/diorama section (Yes, they have one. If your kids are babies or pre-school, just you wait. Dioramas are in your future.)
  • Stuff you probably have around or your kids can collect, like rocks, shells, twigs, driftwood, sea glass, and marbles can all be used for paths, water, retaining walls, fences, and stepping stones.
  • Good plants to use include: Alyssum, baby’s breath, lobelia, ferns, bonsai, mosses, angel’s tears, bachelor’s buttons, and air plants. Also check out the succulents section. Hen and chicks, sedum, and stonecrop come in tiny varieties. Or maybe your fairy prefers the desert; many cacti are very small too.
  • Great selection of adorable furniture and accessories, like the tiniest bike or wheelbarrow: Bibelot Shops (Minneapolis and St. Paul)

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