The World is very old;
But year by year
It groweth new again
When buds appear.
The world is very old,
And sometimes sad,
But when the daisies come
The world is glad
The world is very old;
But every Spring
It groweth young again;
And fairies sing.
Spring Magic by Cecily Mary Barker
Spring is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and it’s time to think about planting gardens. Many of you may want to try a fairy garden, big or small. And in this episode, we’re going to talk a little bit less about folklore and a lot more about gardening.
A fairy garden can be a single container or a full plot. This really depends on how much space you have, how much work you want to do, and what kind of plants you want to use. The purpose of it is to attract fairies to your home and give them a hospitable environment in which to gather. You can decorate your garden with furniture for them or other bits and bobs they may find attractive.
Gardening is all about having the right combination of soil, sunlight, and water for your plants to thrive. There are several terms that you’ll hear while we’re talking about your garden that you’ll want to know. I’m no expert, but these are just some basics to get you started.
When it comes to soil, most plants are going to thrive in well-drained soil. Well-drained soil is soil that allows water to flow through it reasonably quickly and without pooling. Standing water causes problems like root rot, insect infestations, and fungus growth. In containers, this often means making sure you have drainage holes. In your garden or yard, you want to avoid areas where puddles form during rain, especially if they stick around for a few days after.
Sunlight is the next component. The plants we talk about will want full sun, partial sun, or full shade. Full sun typically means at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day, but many plants may need up to 10 hours. Partial-sun and partial-shade are used interchangeably and mean 3 - 6 hours of sunlight per day. Full shade plants do well out of direct sunlight in dappled shade. Observe the area where you want to put your garden or containers to find out how much sunlight it's going to get. Keep in mind that the amount of sun changes the closer you are to the summer solstice.
Watering your plants can be tricky, but if you have the right soil and sun it is easier. Most plants do well when the top layer of soil dries out between waterings. This is especially true with containers. Watering deeply is better than quick blasts of water. This means letting the soil slowly saturate instead of just some quick watering on top. You want the water to run out of the drainage holes slowly and to stop watering when this happens. For a plot of land, you may want to run a sprinkler for an hour or set up a drip irrigation system.
Whatever type of garden you choose you will need plants. This is the most important part, after all. There are several plants that are traditionally associated with fairies that you can grow in both plots and containers, as well as some plants that are aesthetically pleasing for small fairy gardens. One word of warning though, some popular fairy garden plants can be poisonous. I’ll try to warn you about those as we go along, but remember to always double-check if you have small children or pets that may get into your garden. You also want to check by botanical name, not common name. Some plants share common names and this can make identifying them confusing.
Ground covers are plants that spread out over the ground and provide a backdrop for your garden. They typically only grow a few inches tall and are useful in protecting the soil. This is a great alternative to grasses as well! Ground covers look especially good in containers where they may spill out over the sides.
Scotch moss (L) and Irish moss (R)
Scotch moss or Sagina subulata and Irish moss or Arenaria verna are both excellent ground covers for a fairy garden. Neither are real mosses, but definitely look like it, growing only about an inch or two tall. Scotch moss tends to be more golden or chartreuse in color and Irish moss is darker. Both bloom with tiny white flowers, but scotch moss has single flowers while Irish moss blooms in clusters. These plants need full sun with regular watering and well-drained soil. In hotter climates, they may require a bit of afternoon shade. They will grow in partial sun as well, but will be a little more sparse. The main pest to watch out for is slugs.
Another option is creeping thyme or Thymus serpyllum. This ground cover is especially beautiful with deep green foliage and delicate purple flowers. It has the added benefit of a lovely scent and is attractive to butterflies! Creeping thyme grows best in full sun and well-drained soil, but is pretty tolerant of less than ideal conditions. This plant is also virtually pest and disease-free, plus deer- and rabbit-resistant. All around a great option for beginner gardeners in either containers or a full plot.
Creeping jenny or Lysimachia nummularia is also a great ground cover plant, but might be best for containers as it spreads very quickly and is hard to stop. It’s also considered invasive in the U.S. and is best kept contained. The foliage forms a mat of golden to chartreuse heart-shaped leaves and blooms with bright yellow cup-shaped flowers. Planted in a container it will spillover attractively down the sides. Creeping jenny grows best in full sun to partial shade and moist well-drained soil. Generally pest and disease-free.
Periwinkle comes in two species, Lesser or Vinca minor and Greater or Vinca major. As the plant names imply, the Greater species is larger than the Lesser species. And you may want to select one over the other, depending on if you have a plot or container. Either way, this plant is a deep green ground cover with generally large periwinkle-colored blooms. Periwinkle grows best in full sun to partial shade and will tolerate full shade, but you may not get as many blooms. It needs average moisture and well-drained soil but tolerates dry conditions well.
Miniature daisies or Bellium minutum are a great option as a slightly different ground cover to grow. Daisies are classic, of course, but tiny versions are even better for a fairy garden. And these little versions look just like their larger cousins. Miniature daisies grow in mats of light-green leaves and bloom from late spring to early summer. Best in cooler regions, these little plants are not a good choice in areas with hot and humid summers. They require full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.
You can also plant your fairy garden with small stature flowers and plants, either with the ground cover or not. These plants will give your garden some height, but not overpower any accessories you’ve added such as houses or features. If you are planting in a container, you’ll need about 2 or 3 small plants to help fill out your garden.
Floss flowers or Ageratum houstonianum are small flowers that will look great in a fairy garden. They come in shades of purple, pink, and blue and look like tiny pom-poms. They also bloom non-stop all summer, so are a great addition if you are looking for lots of flowers. It typically prefers full sun, but will tolerate partial shade, especially in hotter areas.
Lily of the valley
Lily of the valley or Convallaria majalis is probably one of my favorites, but be careful! This one is poisonous. These plants have lovely fluted foliage of green leaves and tiny, bell-shaped flowers. They only bloom for a few weeks but are a great option for a shaded area with poor, but well-draining soil. Lily of the valley is also pretty low maintenance.
Another of my favorites is impatiens. Impatiens come in so many varieties and colors that it’s hard to keep track. From lavender to deep red, these plants have blooms from early spring to late summer. They are a little bigger than most of the plants I’ve mentioned to this point, growing up to 16 inches tall. The big advantage here is that Impatiens are incredibly easy to grow anywhere. They thrive in full sun, partial shade, and even full shade and need well-drained soil. I’ve grown Impatiens for several summers now and always enjoy the blooms.
Wild pansies or Johnny-jump-ups
Wild pansies, also known as Johnny-jump-ups or Viola tricolor, are little flowers with a big impact. The blooms are purple, white, and yellow tri-colored on top of little thin stems shooting out of deep green foliage. They love full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.
Alyssum or Lobularia maritima is another favorite for fairy gardens. These plants create a carpet of tiny white flowers in clusters. It will cascade beautifully from containers to create a waterfall of bright white flowers. Alyssum will bloom from late spring right up until the first frost, so it’s a good option if you want a lot of long-lasting blooms. They grow best in full sun but may need afternoon shade in hotter areas. As usual, well-draining soil is a must.
Bee balm or Monarda is a beautiful wildflower that attracts pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The blooms are very distinctive and unique, making them hard to describe, but they come in a variety of colors. These plants are also larger than those I’ve mentioned so far. They do well in well-drained soil and either full sun or partial shade.
Lavender or Lavandula augustifolia is probably one that you associate with fairies. And it’s no wonder! These delicate stalks are topped with beautiful clusters of purple flowers and the smell is simply wonderful. It is by far my favorite flower. It is, however, rather challenging to grow. Lavender needs well-drained, sandy soil and full sun. In addition, to make sure it blooms it needs a specific pruning schedule.
If you want something a little different, you can try succulents. I don’t have much luck with them myself, but you might fare better. Most succulents tend to be small, so you can’t really go wrong with your selection. Here are a few that I thought looked particularly appropriate.
Hen and chicks
Hens and chicks or Sempervivum are a great succulent for gardens and containers. These succulents for rosettes of their leaves, looking as much like flowers as anything. The main rosette or the “hen” spreads in all directions by horizontal stems to form offsets or the “chicks”. This means that hens and chicks will spread out and form a ground cover. In the summer, they will bloom out of the hen with showy pink flowers on a tall stalk. Soon after they will die, but the offsets will fill in from there. Hens and chicks, like most succulents and cacti, prefer full sun and soil with excellent drainage, like sandy or gravelly soil.
The jade plant or Crassula ovata is typically considered an indoor plant but will do fine outside as well during the summer. Just bring it inside before the first frost! This plant is especially great for a fairy garden because it looks like a miniature tree. The leaves are dark and glossy green, with red edges. It will bloom with white or pale pink blooms in the fall through spring. The jade plant prefers full sun to partial shade and excellently drained soil that is gravelly or sandy.
String of pearls
String of pearls or Senecio rowleyanus is pretty self-explanatory in appearance. This is a great succulent to cascade out of a container. They are bright green with little globule leaves that are strung along on vines. String of pearls also thrives in full sun with excellent drainage and sandy soil. Unlike many succulents, this one will grow over winter and be dormant in the summer.
Other great succulents to include are the zebra plant or Haworthia fasciata, ivory towers or Crassula x perforata, and miniature pine tree or Crassula tetragona. All of these like full sun and sandy soil with great drainage.
Another great unique option is air plants! Air plants are plants that do not require soil, but instead get their nutrients directly from water and air. Spanish moss or Tillandsia usneoides makes a great draping plant. Other species of Tillandsia are great options as well. These plants will give a unique look to your garden and are typically very easy to care for. They thrive in hot, humid climates with plenty of bright, but indirect light.
The plants we just discussed are beautiful and will look great, especially in containers and surrounding small fairy houses or furniture (which we’ll discuss later). However, you may want to go a step further and select some options that are associated with fairies in folklore. Not all of these plants are going to work for every fairy garden, but I wanted to go ahead and talk about them.
Foxglove, or Digitalis, is probably the most well-known plant linked with fairies. It is said that fairies hide inside the large cups of the foxglove plant. And when the stems bend down to the ground the plant is particularly full of fairies sleeping. It’s also extremely poisonous, so use caution. Foxglove is also more of a plot-friendly plant rather than a container, as they can grow up to 6 foot tall. In appearance, foxglove has graceful stalks with clusters of purple, white, pink, or red bell-shaped blooms. Foxglove does well in full sun and well-drained soil, but if it’s particularly hot in your area it may prefer partial sun to shade.
English bluebells or Hyacinthoides non-scripta are probably right up there with foxglove when it comes to association with fairies. Another common name is even the fairy flower. These plants have graceful stems with single-sided drooping blue bell-shaped flowers. They are also extremely poisonous. That toxicity may be the origin of many of the superstitions and folklore surrounding this plant. It is said that if you were to walk through a patch of bluebells you would fall under a fairy enchantment and die soon after. Another story says that the ringing of the bluebells brings fairies near, but if a human hears the ringing they would die as well. There are several varieties of bluebells and another type might be more appropriate where you live. In general, bluebells want partial shade and tolerate full shade, with moist and well-drained soil.
Common cowslips or Primula veris are another flower thought to be home to fairies. These plants have pretty yellow blooms that form little cups. And if fact are also commonly called fairy cups. It is said that fairies nestle in them to sleep. The fairy Ariel in Shakespeare’s The Tempest was often found to be lying in a cowslip bell. They also are supposed to reveal fairy gold nearby. These hardy plants grow well in partial shade and, as always, well-drained soil.
If you have a yard or garden that needs some more shade, there are trees that you can plant that are associated with fairies. Hawthorn trees or Crataegus douglasi are actually known as fairy trees, as they are said to guard the entrance to the Otherworld. It’s also considered bad luck to cut one, as it may anger the fairies. But you can gather sprigs of flowers in May to bring indoors for luck. In Ireland, small gifts of food or drink would have been left under the hawthorn tree for the fairies. There are several other trees that were said to be home to fairies as well, like the Common ash (Fraxinus excelsior), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), and oak (Quercus). I won’t be going into the planting and care of these trees, but they make lovely additions to a lawn or garden if you have the space. If you already have these trees, consider incorporating them into your fairy garden space.
I also want to say that if you just don’t have a place to grow plants or don’t feel like it’s an option for you, fake plants are a great alternative. Yes, that’s right, you can use fake plants just as easily for your fairy garden. You can even fill in bare spots that your real plants have left with some fakes to give your fairy garden a fuller look. Faux succulents, air plants, and ferns usually look especially realistic. Hobby stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby sell these year-round.
Fairy garden in a container
The last touch to your fairy garden is what really makes it a fairy garden instead of something else. And that is the accessories. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your fairy garden, there are a variety of options to DIY or even affordable places to buy your accessories.
The basic accessories for a fairy garden are a house, pathway, and garden furniture. You can also include ladders, wells, streams, signs, and anything else you choose. If you are planting near a tree or outside wall, you can also buy or make a fairy door. You can buy whatever you like at places like Amazon, Hobby Lobby, and the Dollar Tree. Or get creative and look up some DIY options online.
What do you see?”
The cool green woodland,
The fat velvet bee;
Hey, Mr Bumble,
I’ve honey here for thee!
What see you now?”
The soft summer moonlight
On bracken, grass, and bough;
And all the fairies dancing
As only they know how.
Foxglove by Cicely Mary Barker
We’re venturing a little away from pop culture this week to talk about a series of books. Cicely Mary Barker is a name famously associated with fairies. An illustrator and poet, Barker first published Flower Fairies of Spring in 1923 and several similar volumes after. I personally own The Complete Book of Flower Fairies, which includes all of her illustrations and poems for each individual fairy. If you don’t own any of her books, you can look at the beautiful illustrations and read the associated poems at FlowerFairies.com.
From FlowerFairies.com: “Flower Fairies are tiny creatures that live in the treetops, marshes, forest floor, wayside, and gardens. Wherever and whenever a seed sprouts, a Flower Fairy baby is born. Each Flower Fairy lives and sleeps in their chosen flower, plant, or tree, and as this grows the fairy grows too. Each and every Flower Fairy is in charge of looking after their flower or plant; keeping it strong and healthy by making sure it has plenty of sunshine and water to drink, sweeping away dead leaves, and polishing flowers and stems.”