By Sarah CR Clark
While walking in the neighborhood, have you noticed tiny tea sets on miniature tables waiting for magical party guests to arrive? Or paths of moss leading to pint-sized twig-forts, too tiny even for a mouse?
Spring is the season when children use their imaginations and begin tending “fairy gardens,” hoping to welcome magic into their yards.
This spring is seven-year-old Maeve Gudmastad’s fourth fairy-gardening season. In the winter she keeps her fairy garden warm inside her house. But as soon as spring arrives, she moves it outside.
“I put furniture in the hole in the backyard tree for the fairies,” Maeve said. “I put food out for the fairies, like blueberries and strawberries—they are their favorite!” Maeve was inspired to keep a fairy garden when she received a little fairy house from her grandparents.
Maisy Root, 12, started fairy gardening five years ago.
“The big oak tree in our front yard has an opening in the bottom, right by the sidewalk,” Maisy said. “It seemed perfect for a little door, so my mom bought a door for it. I started putting little things inside the door, tiny furniture or little messages. I believed there were fairies that might get my messages.”
Eventually Maisy has added paths, fire pits and little seats that she made from rocks and sticks. The preschool she once attended takes annual walking field trips to observe Maisy’s fairy garden.
“I feel happy watching people admire it,” she said. Over the years her garden has grown to include flowers, chairs, lamps, a pond and a little fence. This spring she plans to expand her fairy garden to other levels and areas of the yard, “I am imagining making a tiny staircase down the rocks.”
More than just welcoming fairies and magic, fairy gardens offer children many learning moments. Preschool teacher Martha Duerr explained, “The process of building fairy houses (and gardens) requires children to think about how what they are building can be used by a small creature. They are thus, taking their ideas of what they would like or need in a magical home and garden and translate that into something tangible using a variety of creative materials.
“The materials present children with challenges in fine motor control and creative and imaginative thinking,” Duerr said, adding she has also used fairy gardening to teach teamwork and cooperation.
“The idea behind that garden was to give the children a shared goal and project to aid in building cohesiveness within a group where there were some challenging social dynamics brewing,” Duerr said. She reported that through tending the garden together, the children learned about empathy, compromising, negotiating and being flexible.
Both Maeve and Maisy want children to know that tending a fairy garden is an ongoing adventure.
“You can’t just set it up and leave it,” Maisy said. “You have to check in on it, weed it and get things out of the water and stand up things that have tipped over. You have to place the buildings and things in a way that works with the shape of the yard. Things break every year and you have to fix them or throw them away.”
Maeve agreed, noting, “I always have to keep (my garden) because the fairies are really special and they need me.”
The girls also believe that fairy gardeners do not need to buy any pre-made fairy things, but that handmade features are perfectly acceptable. “You just have to use nature and anything you can find,” Maeve explained. “You can reuse stuff.”
Maisy concluded, “It doesn’t have to be complete in one summer. You can keep expanding it.”
Sarah CR Clark is a resident of St. Anthony Park and a regular contributor to the Bugle.