Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Home and Garden

Diggin' Florida Dirt: Fairy gardens offer all the detail, just in miniature

Leaving your garden can be like losing a best friend.

Season after season, you work and play together, take care of each other. You dig, weed, nurse, feed. Your garden gives comfort, purpose, and countless reasons to celebrate otherwise ordinary days.

When circumstances require us, or those we love, to downsize to a condo, apartment or nursing home, the grief can be profound.

Karen Carmody and her late husband, Barry, made such a move four years ago. For more than 30 years, they grew a sunny, Charleston-inspired garden that surrounded their big south Tampa home. With the kids grown and gone, they stepped down to a little bungalow, its back yard paved with bricks and shrouded in shade. There would be no more mammoth flowerbeds; no more bright, light-greedy plants.

Like almost every other gardener I know, Karen Carmody found a work-around. Her new gardens rival the old homestead in every way except size. They fire up her imagination and sprinkle pixie dust on her five grandchildren, ages 4 to 8.

Fairies can do that.

"About two years ago, my sister mentioned she'd seen a fairy garden. I'd never heard of them," Karen said. "Then I was visiting a friend in Washington state and, in the back corner of a beach store, I found all the little fairy accoutrements — tiny furniture, little figurines."

She scooped them up. She learned that fairy gardens, part dollhouse and part container garden, require itty-bitty everything — including plants.

"Regular plants would just take over, even if you keep trimming them," she said. "You have to use miniature varieties."

Karen's new landscapes include African violets no more than 2 inches in diameter, minuscule polka dot plants, and succulents like baby tears. Fairy versions of her twin granddaughters, Adelaide and Genevieve, cuddle kittens and take wing on horseback, just like the real-life 8-year-olds. Tinker Bell, Karen's effervescent schnauzer, sits poised for play.

"I finished the first one and my 3-year-old grandson, Jack, loved it. He wanted one. I said, 'How about a gnome garden for you?' "

Jack, now 5, fishes from a burbling stream of blue glass pebbles, a campfire burning nearby. An owl perches overhead in a tree, half hidden, and a fox lays curled in the shrubs. Jack's gnome marches over a bridge with a rake.

That scene may be completely different tomorrow.

"They all come over and play with them; they move things around all the time," Karen said.

Two grandkids live in Virginia. Matthew, 7, and Harrison, 4, didn't like being left out. Karen sent fairy CARE packages — assembly required.

Fairy gardens date back more than 100 years, when gardeners created spaces to invite the ephemeral little beings into their landscapes. The idea got a reboot several years ago, thanks to social media. Today's take doesn't wait for the fairies — it moves them in.

The gardens do best outside in the filtered light of her backyard. She waters, trims and repairs the occasional damage from curious squirrels.

"The hardest part about creating them is finding a container if you want something different," she said. (And she likes different!)

Karen finds ideas on Pinterest, local plants and accessories at GardenSmith, Sprout Gardening and Bloom Garden Shop, all in Tampa, and online — the motherlode — at fairygardenstore.com.

Once she has come up with a theme and gathered all she needs, the fun begins.

"I get lost in it — it's gardening on a different scale."

Just right for gardeners with big ideas and smaller spaces.

Contact Penny Carnathan at [email protected]; visit her blog, digginfloridadirt.com; join in the chat on Facebook, Diggin Florida Dirt; and follow @Diggin Penny.