Planting an Enchanted Garden
By Kitty Stewart
UCCE Master Gardeners of El Dorado County
published in the 2/08/2023 Mountain Democrat
Fairy gardens and fantasy creations create bright spots of interest in your garden, captivating children and adults alike. They can be full of pixies, dragons, or dinosaurs, or perhaps have little dwellings that invite the imagination to fill them. Tiny walkways, stone cottages, and decorated tree stumps, all in miniature, create a space that can be decorative, or allow rearrangement and play for all ages. Your garden can be tucked under a tree in your yard, layered in a broken pot, or displayed in a decorative container filled with enchanting accessories and set up to admire outdoors on your patio or indoors in a terrarium. There is even a Fantasy Gardens category of entries for the County Fair this year.
To create an enchanted garden, assemble a variety of small succulents and tiny flowering plants, colored rocks or sand, twigs, small branches, and colorful or painted rocks. I like using natural materials, such as bark, branches, or tree stumps, and wooden discs to create the walls of a cottage. Consider using a small string of holiday lights, best if battery-operated, to twinkle around or above the setting – or inside tiny houses to welcome fairy occupants.
Certain plants lend themselves to the miniature garden theme more easily. Succulents, mosses, ferns, and air plants (Tillandsia spp.) all work well in small scale, and miniature cultivars of other garden plants will stay small for months. Hostas, oregano, and small leaf varieties of mint will all look great in tiny spaces, but do require regular watering, especially if in a pot. Most of these require shade to grow well in our area, especially in the heat of the summer, and will need regular misting or watering, depending on the species. The air plants can be established on gravel or rocks above the soil to keep their roots out of the moisture. They prefer just a weekly rinsing or sprinkling, and do particularly well inside a glass globe or terrarium out of the direct sun. The silver or gray-leaved varieties tolerate drier conditions than green varieties, and some colorful plants like Tillandsia maxima have red leaves, to create accents when the plants are not flowering. For tiny flowers, Sinningia pusilla and other miniature gloxinias grow just three inches tall.
Add in tiny tables and chairs with mushroom-shaped houses, on the same scale as your plants. It is best to choose the same scale for items within each display. Choose plants that fit the scale of your creation in a container. If working on a larger scale, garden gnomes or carved dragons can occupy more normal-sized gardens, along with scrying crystals and small fountains or other artwork.
Children may love the fantasy gardens, but adults adore these creations, too, and find that the addition whimsy lends character to the garden or outdoor space, and provides your own personal imaginary realm to relax in.