December 2, 2016

Give the Gift of a Fairy Garden

by Toni Leland

Leisurely days in the garden are over, and even the pruning and cleanup should be finished by now. Time to think about the holidays. Within a three-day period, Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa will provide plenty of opportunities for gift-giving. Friends or family who love to garden would appreciate something designed around their passion, so why not give the gift of a garden?

Themed Fairy Gardens

A perfect garden for an office!
A fairy garden for a shady deck.
Fairy gardens took the scene by storm this past year, and with good reason – they are adorable! The idea has so many variations that one could design a fairy garden for almost any occasion. Any one of the above-mentioned holidays, plus birthdays, anniversaries, or “just because” would be the perfect time to craft one of these tiny gardens.

Before embarking on your design, the first thing to consider is whether the garden will be for indoors or outdoors. Winter weather isn’t too kind to the ornaments and plants we use for these container plantings, but with a little planning, an outdoor fairy garden could be put together now, then placed outside when warmer weather arrives.

For instance: a garden with a Christmas-y theme could include a tiny Norfolk pine that would be equally happy indoors as outside. Seasonal ornaments can be removed for the summer, then replaced when the garden comes back indoors. Herbs also make wonderful plants for fairy gardens, but they do need adequate sun to thrive, so the hardier varieties with woody stems, such as oregano or creeping thyme, would be good candidates. However, for the winter months, they would need a sunny windowsill. Cacti and succulents are excellent for indoor plantings; they require little water and are tolerant of many levels of light.

Container-friendly Plants

For the indoor fairy garden, any small, slow-growing houseplant will work, as long as you check to see that it isn’t a variety that grows too big. Other things to consider are light requirements. Low-light houseplants are perfect for offices and homes without many windows. Will your garden gift live in a bright sunny room? Many beautiful houseplants love lots of light, but they also grow much faster than the others. Pot size will be a factor here.

Container friendly houseplants
Left to right: Schefflera, Purple Passion, and Aralia

Choosing a Pot

What kind of pot and what size? Many pretty decorative containers are available, but most of them do not have drainage holes in the bottom. For an indoor garden, this can be a good thing and will prevent water damage to furniture; however, it will be necessary to provide drainage inside the pot, which will be discussed later in this post. True planter pots will have the necessary drainage system and should be used for outdoor gardens. (Be aware that dark-colored containers absorb heat quickly and will require regular watering. Likewise, terra cotta pots are porous and will dry out.)
Interesting pots and a cute snowman planter
An assortment of interesting pots, plus an adorable snowman!

Ornaments and Decorations

The fun thing about this project is searching for the finishing touches. Depending on your theme, cute ornaments can be found almost anywhere. If you’re rushed for time, start with a craft store; most of them have a “miniatures” section, often with seasonal pieces. Garden centers almost always carry a good assortment of fairy garden needs, although late in the year the selection might sparse. For those of you with time to go on a treasure hunt, visit dollar stores, thrift stores, and yard sales. Often, you’ll see something you weren’t looking for, and it will generate more ideas for your fairy garden!

An assortment of themed decorations from a thrift shop


With the exception of your decorative pieces, the following supplies are readily available year-round.
  • Container, pot, or planter (for containers with drain holes, you’ll also need a pot saucer)
  • Potting soil: most potting soil comes with nutrients already incorporated into the medium
  • Rocks: 1” is a good size
  • Dried moss (green or brown) OR
  • Decorative snow, for the winter holiday theme
  • Plant choices – be sure you get the plant tag for identification and care instructions
  • Themed decorations
Potting soil, rocks, moss, and decorative snow

Putting it all Together

1.  Before you begin, place your potting soil in a small tub or bucket and add some water until it is just moistened. Don’t soak it.

2.  If using a container with no drainage holes, place a single layer of rocks over the bottom.

Pot types and rock drainage

3.  Fill the pot halfway with the moistened soil.

4.  Decide where you’ll locate the plant; at the edge of the pot works well and allows room for decorations.

5.  Remove the plant from it’s grower's pot and inspect the roots. If they are tangled around the root-ball, gently loosen them.

Untangle the root ball

6.  Set the plant where you want it, making sure it is straight. The crown of the plant should be about 1 inch below the rim of the pot. This allows room for moss or snow, plus keeps water from running over the edge.

Place the plant in the right spot

7.  Add soil around the plant root-ball, firming it and adding more, as needed. Be sure there is soil in the space between the plant and the pot wall.

Add soil and firm it around the base
8.  Using about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water, depending on the size of your pot, give the plant a drink to settle the soil around the roots.

9.  Tuck the plant tag behind the plant and push it down the side of the pot.

Now the fun part!

  • For a snowy garden, sprinkle the fake snow generously over the soil surface, around the base of the plant, and even put a few flakes in the leaves of the plant.
  • If using moss, arrange it the way you want it.
  • Arrange your decorations, and press them firmly into the medium.
  • Add a ribbon or a gift tag and a card with watering instructions.
A snow themed garden with mice, and a mossy garden with Santa Claus

Store your gift fairy garden in a place with proper lighting until time to present to the lucky recipient.
Fairy gardens with no drainage holes should be watered sparingly, based on the plant needs listed on the plant tag. Too much water and the roots will rot.

Have fun with these, and be sure to make one for yourself!  If you're not the crafty type, check out my "Gifts for Gardeners" article in the December Norwich Magazine.

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