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Gardening in Miniature

Add a touch of whimsy to your landscape with fairy gardens

By Jodi Helmer

Photography by Sarah Conard

Linda Sulentic often wonders what it would be like to be two inches tall. She wanders around her garden, thinking about where she would live and how she could decorate her surroundings — and then she creates elaborate miniature gardens based on her imaginings.

The small worlds, called fairy gardens, are creative vignettes complete with miniature furnishings, diminutive plants, and lots of whimsy.

“It’s a fun way to spend time in the garden and bring out your inner child,” she says.

The little gardens have become a big trend. Pinterest is filled with images of woodland scenes replete with white-tailed deer, moss, and mushroom caps and miniature farms with vegetable gardens, sheep, garden tools, and, of course, whimsical winged fairies that inspire the design.

Linda started making fairy gardens long before photos started surfacing on social media.

In 2005, she had the idea to combine her passions for gardening and collecting miniatures. Her first project: Transforming a wheelbarrow into a container garden filled with small plants and diminutive accessories.

She purchased supplies, such as colorful fairies, at a local garden center and combined them with small plants and found objects such as acorns, pebbles, twigs, and seashells. The fairy garden became the focal point of her Belleville, Ill., garden and sparked a new passion.

“It put me in a happy place,” Linda recalls.

When Linda showed a photo of her fairy garden to the owner of the garden center where she shopped for miniatures, the reaction was equally enthusiastic.

Linda started teaching fairy garden classes at the garden center and has since expanded her classes to other nurseries, community colleges, and garden clubs.

During classes, she encourages gardeners to tap into their creativity, imagining whimsical worlds where fairies open doors in the trunks of trees, frolic in ponds fashioned from colorful pebbles, and host tea parties on mushroom caps.

All that’s required to create a fairy garden, she insists, is a good imagination; no experience is required.

“With imagination, you can take almost anything and create a world,” she says. “It’s all about creating a miniature world that invites your fairy in.”

In fact, students who sign up for classes — and those who fall in love with fairy gardens — don’t have degrees in landscape architecture or dollhouse interior design but do love gardening and want new ways to express their creativity and add a touch of whimsy to their landscape.

‘Options are Endless’

To get started, Linda suggests thinking about what it would be like to be two inches tall: What would draw fairies to explore the whimsical little world and entice them to stay awhile? Fairy gardening, she explains, is about suspending disbelief and allowing the imagination to come alive.

No garden? No worries.

Although she often takes advantage of open spaces in flowerbeds and public parks to build grand fairy gardens, Linda also has transformed teacups, old boots, glass containers, garden pots, and a wheelbarrow into whimsical little worlds.

Creating a fairy garden in a container, she explains, allows gardeners to bring a fairy garden indoors or display it on the patio while tending to it year ’round.

“The options are endless,” she says. “If you have a container, you can make a fairy garden. Your imagination will take you wherever you want to go.”

Linda uses her imagination to turn found objects into fairy garden accessories: Walnuts become birdhouses; twigs are transformed into arbors and bridges; pebbles line garden paths; and pinecone pieces become rustic rooftops. She combines the DIY elements with miniatures such as stone cottages, swings, wishing wells, and animals purchased from nurseries, craft retailers, dollar stores, secondhand shops, and more.

Moss, rosemary, baby tears, violets, and succulents add an element of lushness to the garden.

“Thyme is perfect for a fairy garden,” Linda says. “The tiny leaves are so lush; it looks like a bed made for a fairy.”

Creating a fairy garden encourages you to look at the garden in a whole new way, thinking about secluded spots where fairies want to live and how to turn unexpected objects into tiny accessories.

“We spend so much time connected to electronics,” she says. “Fairy gardens connect you to nature.”

Linda can’t count the number of fairy gardens she’s created over the last 10 years or the number of times she’s redesigned the gardens in her yard — she changes out the plants and accessories with the seasons, incorporating bright blooms in the spring and evergreens and twinkle lights at Christmas — but she can count on a continued passion for making miniature gardens.

“Every time I make a fairy garden, a new idea pops into my head,” she says. “It’s very therapeutic; making a fairy garden puts me in another world.”