This Trend for Spring 2021 is Magic: How fairy gardens are inspiring community after COVID-19 year
Illustration 114005513 © M-sur | Dreamstime.com
The tiny hand-painted doors and mushroom-shaped houses are nestled at the base of Ficus tree trunks, constructed inside pots or shyly peeking out under hedges. I search the small pathways and wee ladders for signs of footprints: proof of the fairies, gnomes and mythical creatures who’ve moved into our neighborhoods.
After a year when urban vegetable gardens have been both therapy and food source while we huddled in our homes, fairy gardens have again become a delightful trend as we emerge from our reclusive COVID-19 year and head back outside for Spring.
Recently I’ve spotted a growing number of miniature fairytale adornments guarding flower beds and raised garden boxes in our Santa Monica neighborhood.
Homeowners and passers-by pause for a moment to connect and smile, sometimes commenting on the enchanting surprises and the strong sense of community and joy they’re bringing.
These small moments of connection are an antidote to the solitude and fear we’ve all been experiencing these past months.
Before the pandemic, the streets of my small community were often crowded during peak traffic hours. For the past year, with many people working from home, no school and less traffic, everything slowed down. More people have been biking, walking and slowly strolling including me. This is how I discovered the abundance of fairy folk, although they weren’t the first ones.
Perhaps these fairy landlords were inspired by my neighbor, Amy Hill, who created a fairy garden with her daughters for their front yard six years ago.
Her home, which is on the walk to our elementary school, became a favorite stop for families. Their tiny scene is made from scraps of wood, canvas and hardened clay. Friends began to donate items, including fairies to live there. Over the years, she’s decorated it for holidays; it even became political during the election with wee anti-Trump signs.
“We used to sit at our breakfast table and watch people experience the magic,” Hill said. “Magical thinking is an important part of childhood and the pandemic has heightened this need to believe in something good.”
Hill’s daughter, Billie, even wrote about their fairy garden for her college essay.
“Children leave notes and pictures of themselves, but most importantly they stop to enjoy something simple and pure.”
Billie is hopeful her garden was a catalyst for the many others that have sprouted around.
Another Santa Monica resident, Cristine Ackel, believes the fairies chose her garden for their home because she’d already created a sense of whimsy there. Her vegetable garden included small figurines such as a giraffe eating the kale, a monkey hanging from the tomato plant and other playful elements.
Almost hidden beneath her sidewalk hedge but at eye-level for children and observant walkers, is an entire magical landscape. The posted twig sign highlights the fairy healing powers for those who are sick, in need of support or on the other side of life.
The instructions for visitors are clear, “take a rock, put a name on it and leave it in our garden. We’ll do our best to work our magic.”
Since the stones and sign appeared, dozens of small, painted stones with names of loved ones surround the small village
“There’s so much invisible grief right now,” Ackel says. “I’m hoping the magic energy gives people another layer of comfort. We’re all trying to do our fairy best,” she says wistfully.
Further east, near Culver City, a fairy garden became an internet sensation in December when the story of its 4-year-old owner, Eliana, and her special fairy visitor went viral. Fairy Sapphire, whose real name is Kelly Kenney, noticed the tiny, magical home on a walk in her neighborhood. Needing some joy in her own life, she and the youngster began corresponding with permission from Eliana’s parents.
“The first few times it, it gave me purpose to do something for her and then I started realizing it was helping me,” Kenney said. “I was making crafts and creating stories; she was helping me build this little universe and it was lifting my spirits.
Kenney created small items and wrote notes, which helped forge a special bond between the two. She never expected her story, which she posted after the family moved, to go viral.
So far, Kelley’s @saysthefox Twitter story has had 45 million views. Oprah even retweeted it and told Kelly and Eliana that she wants to take them to Disneyland when it reopens. They’re looking forward to finding the small home where “the little man of Disneyland” lives.
Like Hill and Ackel, Kenney believes her story inspired others to create a sense of community without being too close.
She’s now corresponding with a family in North Carolina and has been sending them treasure boxes to create their own magical adventure. She’s also in conversations to develop books and a movie based around her fairy experience.
Though new to many this past year, the whimsy of fairies has long been a favorite pastime for avid gardeners and fans of miniature things.
Amberly Dyer, who lives in Salvo, North Carolina has been creating fairy gardens for almost 20 years. She agrees with the idea that people need some magical escapism right now.
“COVID-19 has forced us to become more home-bound and we want to experience a sense of wonder,” she said. It’s getting us back to a place of innocence.”
Dyer’s husband added his own sense of fun, creating a miniature dinosaur garden that he’s been tending for the last two years.
Nine-year-old Dagny Bernstein, who lives in Ashville, created her fairy home for a school project and has continued to expand it.
Her mother, Marci, said, “Fairy gardens are a connection to the natural world and a good bridge for children’s learning. The home-building fits into teaching about nature, science and can also be an engineering project.” “I love making things and it’s fun to create a home for them out of natural outside items,” Dagny added. “Fairies are very small, and you need to remember to make tiny things for them.”
The most developed magical neighborhoods, though, seem to be the fairy trails located inside several spiritualist camps across the country.
Popularized in the late 19th century, these centers continue to host events with mediums, psychics and others mystical guides. Most are closed to the public and have been hosting virtual events.
Lily Dale Assembly, which is located in western New York and known as the “world’s largest center for the science philosophy and religion of spiritualism,” has a Fairy Trail that was started more than 20 years ago by volunteers Natalie Larson and Connie Dutcher. Its original 10 homes have been joined by dozens brought by visitors.
Like Ackel’s Santa Monica COVID memorial garden, many of the mementos honor lost loved ones. “It’s healing for the person leaving them,” says Dutcher.
Spiritual Medium Jodi Weaver, who will be teaching a fairy class at Lily Dale in the Fall, says she was inspired by the Lily Dale trail to create one at Camp Chesterfield, another spiritualist center in Anderson, Indiana.
Cassadega, located in Florida, invites visitors to rejuvenate within its fairy garden. Each of these centers are continuing a spiritualist tradition that began more than 130 years ago when the movement grew across the United States.
About the resurgence of fairy gardens, Weaver says she believes people want joy to return to their lives. “Fairies and fairy stories have existed forever as a bridge between our world and the natural one. Filling an edible landscape with spirit elements is a way to connect more deeply and generate stronger awareness of our connection to the earth and to ourselves.”
Weaver’s recommendations for people wanting to encourage magical visitors to their garden are specific as she notes all fairies are elemental beings.
· Generate awareness by giving them a home with natural elements. Anything that attracts nature will attract fairies including flowers and herbs.
· Along with small natural items, include shiny and colorful elements such as crystals, coins, gemstones and marbles. Be playful as fairies revel in joy.
· Don’t place anything toxic as fairies are rooted in nature. But they do love gifts.
For those seeking to create their own garden, Etsy shops are filled with craft-makers selling items for gnome and fairy homes. Specialty websites and home/garden stores including Michaels, Home Depot and the 99cent chain also carry merchandise for this seasonal small home decorating project.
Even apartment dwellers or folks with no garden can welcome fairy joy into their homes as this small pot below from LIVINTINS demonstrates.
SPRING arrives March 20. FAIRY THEE WELL!