URBANA - Creating an indoor fairy garden is one way to entice children to fall in love with gardening and nature.
"A fairy garden is a small scene that uses at least one living plant along with items crafted from nature to create a whimsical home for pixie creatures," said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Nancy Pollard.
Succulent plants work well for fairy gardens. They need little water. Small succulents, such as sedums, can be used as mini-shrubs, trees, or low-trailing plants in shallow containers. They come in a range of colors: blue, orange, red, and green.
The plants can be placed in a sunny window. Their thick fleshy leaves store water for drought, so they can go for weeks without needing water if they are forgotten, and they do well in the dry interior conditions of winter. Use soil mixes labeled for cactus, palm, or citrus, which usually contain peat, humus, sand, perlite, and sometimes dolomitic limestone. As with any container garden, it is best to have a drainage hole in the bottom with a saucer underneath to protect furnishings.
"Some gardeners like to use horticultural charcoal in the bottom of the container if it does not have a hole," Pollard said. "If you think you have added too much water and there is no drainage hole, carefully turn the container on its side to drain the excess. Next to lack of light, overwatering is the biggest threat to succulents."
Once the container garden is set up, the fairy scene can be created. Furnishings can be placed under the shade of a small jade plant and rest on a lawn of sheet moss. A milkweed pod lined with a scarlet leaflet and held in place by thread to a stand made from grapevines forms a fairy cradle. Tuck bits of moss into the joints to give it an aged and softer look. Create a pillow from a tiny slice of dried cockscomb flower. Form a blanket from a lamb's ear leaf trimmed into a square. Use a glue gun to fasten the details.
"Whether you collect what is available in your yard or buy from a dried-flower vendor, creativity is sparked by imagination," Pollard said. "When the weather cooperates, take children (or enchanted adults) to gather debris in your garden. Sticks, twigs, and acorns can all become something for your fairies."
For example, cups for a tea party scene can be made from seed pods cut in half with a grapevine tendril handle. The saucers can be made from a Eucalyptus leaf. Grapevine twigs can form the base of a table or chair. Pine-cone scales can be glued like shingles to the back of a royal throne to create a theatrical-looking chair. Tuck bits of moss and dried flowers in the cracks to give it whimsy.
All these adornments add delight to an indoor scene that otherwise would be simply a succulent sedum or jade plant and some moss. This scene can become magical for children when an imaginary world is added.
"One teacher I know has a fairy garden in her classroom," she said. "The children leave little notes for the fairies, and they write back to the children in script that takes a magnifying glass to read."
Pollard said that connecting fairies to gardens was made popular in the 1920s by Cicely Mary Barker's book Flower Fairies and has enjoyed a resurge of popularity in recent times. "A new generation is imagining fairies visiting their tiny gardens while they dream," she said.
Pull date: December 7, 2012