How to Build a Fairy Garden

Each November and December during its Winter Jewels celebration, the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House transforms into an enchanted wonderland complete with fierce dragons, noble nights, gnomes, and fairies. That might seem like a lot of magic to fit under the glass roof of the Butterfly House’s tropical conservatory, but some of these fanciful creations are actually small enough to fit in even your own home or garden.

Fairies Welcome, But Not Required

“Fairy gardens” like those on display at the Butterfly House during Winter Jewels reflect a popular trend in container gardening. Though fairies and other fantasy elements are common in such gardens, the term simply refers to fully realized garden or landscape that’s assembled in miniature.

Fairy gardens typically combine hardscape items such as stone paths or dry creek beds as well as small-leaved plants with a variety of colors and textures and small-scale structures to create the illusion of a true garden in miniature form.

With the right resources and a little creativity, you can create your own miniature garden oasis. Many garden centers and nurseries carry a large assortment of miniature plants well-suited for fairy gardens, as well as miniature objects to give the gardens character. Below are some tips from the Kemper Center for Home Gardening to help you get started.

Create Your Own Fairy Garden 

To begin, find a container that is shallow, approximately 2 to 4 inches deep and 12 to 20 inches wide. This size would make a suitable miniature landscape, but the boundaries of your fairy garden can be as big or wide as your imagination.

Unlike typical container gardening practices for which a porous container with a drainage hole is recommended, the use of such a shallow and wide container can allow water to evaporate much more quickly and provide greater oxygen to the shallow root system. This allows healthy root growth without a significant risk of rotting (if the container is much deeper than 4 inches, the addition of a drainage hole is recommended).

The large surface area of the container can leave plants vulnerable to drying out too quickly. When a drainage hole is not present, place a layer of horticultural charcoal in the bottom of the container and top it with potting soil mixed with calcined clay (a baked clay product which holds moisture while keeping it available to the plants). This moisture balance can be aided by the use of a moist, long-fiber sphagnum moss, sometimes called orchid moss, to mulch the top of the soil layer.

Some possible plant selections include: low growing sedums, little leaved ivies,  Muehlenbeckia (wire vine), Hypoestes (poka-dot plant), Fittonia (mosaic plant), Columnea (goldfish plant), Selaginella (club moss), PeperomiaFicus pumila (creeping fig), and even jewel orchids grown for their foliage instead of for their flowers. Tiny succulents would also be good to consider when choosing plants for your landscape.

Jane Roth
Horticulture Assistant Kemper Center for Home Gardening

Photos by Sundos Schneider

More Hands-on Magic

Learn more about fairy gardening or other DIY crafting techniques. Take a class at the Garden!


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