The fairy business cannot be rushed.
When Siobhan Nehin and her volunteer army sign on to a garden project, it's not a one-weekend-and-done type of thing.
"This is not a TV show," she says. "This is reality."
Turning a sparse yard into a lush tropical landscape can take three to five years, she says, with several work sessions.
Nehin is the head of the Garden Fairies, a co-op of about 499 women — and one Garden Dude, he refuses to be called a fairy — who donate their time and talents to lawns and parks around Tampa Bay.
Most are women in their 40s to 70s — some are artists, all are volunteers. They create intricate mosaic tabletops and paint colorful tropical scenes on otherwise bland walls as well as add plants to the landscape.
"We don't rely on guy power," Nehin says. "We don't do hardscape. We do softscape, artistic stuff."
Over the past 11 years, the group has worked on 100 projects. Ten of their most impressive transformations will be on view today as part of the Garden Fairies Art in the Garden Tour. The self-guided tour stretches from Trinity in Pasco to Largo in Pinellas and includes how-to demonstrations for some of the projects on display. Many visitors come not only to see the changes, Nehin says, but to get inspirations for their yards.
If you like what you see, but know you'll need help to pull it off, you can add your name to the list for a yard makeover. Just be prepared to wait — and work — for it.
Much like with Habitat for Humanity, the Garden Fairies require a homeowner to work at least three sessions for others before joining the "Transformation List," a pool of candidates for a makeover.
Once a yard is selected, Nehin creates a basic design to get the transformation started, but she says most women know what they want. The home-owner supplies all materials; the Fairies handle the magic.
Nehin, a former art director for an advertising agency, formed the group a few years after moving from Buffalo, N.Y., to Tarpon Springs. "The move was tough," she says. "I missed my artist friends."
It wasn't long before she found the same type of friends here, friends who also happened to be gardeners. They began working in each other's yards, using their artistic skills to create themed gardens. They dubbed themselves the Garden Fairies.
Why Fairies? According to the group's Web site, wedigdoinit.com, the name came about because garden fairies are "magical — and a bit mysterious — creatures who bring happy responses from almost all they encounter. So we thought . . . magical/happy . . . that works for us!"
The Garden Fairies began partnering with nonprofit organizations in 2003 when a park ranger at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs was looking for volunteers to plant sea grass. Nehin, her husband, Bruce Snyder, and a few of the Fairies are avid windsurfers at the park, so they stepped up and asked to take the project further, offering to help plant and raise money for other improvements.
Nehin invited Jesus and Nikki Rodriguez, newly arrived transplants from Seattle who also frequented the park to windsurf, to join them. The couple had moved to Trinity in part to aid Jesus' recovery from an accident on a water scooter.
"I needed something to take my mind off my injury," says Rodriguez, who thus became the lone male member of the group. His yard is one of the 10 stops on today's tour.
The Fairies raised $8,000 for Fred Howard Park, which was used to purchase palm trees, provide beach wheelchairs, build ramps and add a butterfly garden. Now they have completed eight community projects; next up is the creation of a community garden in a vacant lot in downtown Tarpon Springs, to be paid for in part with proceeds from today's Art in the Garden tour.
Want to see what magic the Fairies have up their sleeve for this one? You'll just have to wait.
Kyle Pierson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg. She can be reached at email@example.com.