by Valle Novak
Some years ago – and I’ve recounted this story before – I was lost in a network of country roads and finally in desperation, knocked on the door of a secluded house I had happened to see. As I waited for an answer to my knock, I glanced down at the grass near the porch and noticed a fairy ring. The door opened, and I greeted the astonished gentleman behind the screen with “I see the fairies danced on your lawn last night!”
I should have said “hello” first, I know, but I was so encouraged by the sight of the fairy ring that I just knew this would be a friendly person.
After his first hard and considering look – (is this woman dangerous?) – I told him I was totally lost and looking for a main road. He was at once friendly and helpful, came out and walked to the roadway to point the way. Then I apologized for my strange greeting, and told him my reason – that my grandmother had taught me fairy rings were a sign of luck and acceptance by the “little people.”
He warmed up to the subject then, and said that for a time he had tried to get rid of the mossy thatch and its accompanying mushrooms, but nothing ever worked. He laughed and said “they drop their hankies around the yard, too.” He was referring, of course, to the dew-filled webs spun by the little ground-dwelling spiders and called “fairy’s handkerchiefs.”
What a neat old fellow he was. What a nice heart and mind-set. I had surely chosen the right place to stop for directions. We parted in friendship after only a few moments, and though I never saw him again, I have never forgotten him. You see, whether or not one believes in fairies isn’t the key, and doesn’t make a person good or bad – it’s the acceptance of whatever comes, whether we understand it or not – and living in peace with it. He had found that secret.
So, if you believe in fairies (or want to) – or don’t, but like the idea of today’s topic – a fairy garden – consider some of the possibilities for such an undertaking. Since famed fairy artist/author Cicely Mary Barker tells us that there is a particular fairy for every single plant, it would seem we could plant anything at all in our fairy garden. That’s true, but there are a few special things to consider:
The focal point should be a tree or large shrub, around which the fairies can congregate and dance. While the old saying “fairy folks are in old oaks” is a clue, an oak (or even the pin oak, which is hardy here) isn’t too practical. It’s also “known” that the hawthorn is beloved of the fairy-folk and this beauty is definitely happy in our climate so that’s a consideration. The fairy tree should be a lush and healing tree in that it offers leafy shelter for the birds (and fairies), flowers for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds (and the soul), and fruits for eating. So any ornamental fruit-bearer would do, though the Mountain Ash (Rowan) is particularly favored by the wee-folk. I recall that Barker’s Crab-apple Fairy offered the fruits of her tree to children to gather for their mothers’ jellies, and saying she, too, would “catch one little apple”, to stew and store in “four or five acorn cups” in a cupboard at the root of the tree.
Acceptable, too, are elder, birch, apple, aspen, lilac, all willows, alder, and even blackberry brambles!
So we have our special focal tree, to be surrounded by garden – separated, of course, by two to four feet of grass (maybe the fairies will decide to grow a fairy ring!) and perhaps encircled by a bench, if you wish. I visualize a spiraled circle, lavish with clusters of bright flowers growing in a hodge-podge of color and form. Let the spiral path be of gravel, wood chips, brick or paving stones – whatever your heart desires – just so it circles through the plantings at least once before coming out at the tree/lawn opening. This is the “dancing path.”
You’ll want bright red Oriental poppies (the poppy fairy is especially beautiful); blue delphinium, larkspur, or monkshood (lore tells us that fairy hunters wore monkshood helmets); Bouncing Bet (Saponaria) so the fairies can wash their clothes); Cowslip – (Primula veris) the original primrose, an especial favorite of fairies; some Fairy wands (Liatris); Foxgloves (fairy thimbles) the true perennial yellow is best; Meadowsweet or Queen of the Meadow, which was originally called meadwort for the sweetness of its leaves, used to flavor mead (which the fairies love to drink!); Honesty (Lunaria – which we call the Money Plant but whose name comes from Moon), when mature, sheds the husks from it’s silvery pods so that the moon can shine through for fairy revels.
Bright yellow daisies would be good, and of course, you’ll need lilies-of-the-valley so that they can ring “when the fairies sing.” Delicate harebells (our native bluebell) make perky bonnets for young fairies, and there should be violets and pansies or Johnny Jump-ups galore. Roses should be planted here and there – ramblers are nice to scramble untidily and endearingly throughout – and Clematis, too – the wild, small-flowered kind. Tuck in a couple of low-bush blueberries for food and bright red leaves in the fall (unicorns are said to relish them). You see, most any plant at all will do for your special fairy garden (they love ’em all, and tend them).
Thyme is also very important – not so much for the fairies as for you, since a tea made of the leaves is said to enable you to see the fairies! After the garden’s in bloom, perhaps you could dare a cup of thyme tea, sit quietly on the bench late at night under the full moon and see if you’ll be allowed to glimpse them. A revel headed by Titania and Oberon – the queen and king of the fairies – would be something to see!
However, you’re not finished yet. Two more things are necessary for your fairy garden: At least one birdbath (a low one for fairy use as well); and rocks! Neat humped, mossy rocks; shiny mica-flecked rocks; flat rocks for resting, jaggy ones for sitting – you get the picture. You could use gnarled wood just as well if you wish. You can also tuck in little “gifts” for the garden’s non-fairy inhabitants – a toad house, a butterfly house – maybe a small garden statue of St. Francis or St. Fiacre (the patron saint of gardeners), or a Green Man plaque – or even a fairy sculpture (to draw the real thing?).
When you garden is finished and in full bloom, you’ll find yourself walking your little circle path time and time again; and you’ll have something so lovely, so enchanting – that you may even end up believing in fairies!
Originally published 5/13/01 in the Bonner County Daily Bee