Here’s what I don’t like about fairy gardens

A tiny garden I like

The desire to create a miniature world makes perfect sense to me.  This is why we have dollhouses, train sets, collections of tiny objects, and boutique dictatorships. Daily life spins out of control on a regular basis—most of us are just trying to keep up, or at least make it seem as though we’re keeping up. Retreats are necessary. If it’s possible to carve out even a tiny bit of order from the chaos, why not?

So I don’t have a problem with tiny garden worlds, in theory. But here’s where it gets annoying. Fairy gardens are—in the world of marketing— a trend. If you google the term, you’ll get sucked into a vortex where words like “wee,” “whimsy” and “quaint” describe everything, and resin is the media of choice. Plants are secondary at best. And it often seems to require a professed belief in fairies, or at least a willingness to use terminology that suggests such a belief.  Which is strange and kind of sickening, but it doesn’t bother me as much as all the tiny stuff. Garden centers devote an increasing amount of real estate to tiny patio furniture, trellises, garden tools, and little castles or huts for the fairies to live in. All mass-produced wherever, of course. In this world, gardening isn’t about growing stuff—it’s just about stuff.

My friend Arlan, whose miniature garden is shown above, uses the term “moss garden” to describe this space. It’s located along a narrow walkway at the side of his house—it would be difficult to grow any type of traditional border here. All the structures are handmade, and are meant to suggest a country village. If I had his skillset, this is the type of miniature garden I would have.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Well with all the big growers dropping their drawers for the boxes IGCs are scrambling for something to sell during the slow seasons. Garden season in NY used to run 12-16 weeks. That is now 6 weeks at best when the stores are jammed and people really buying things.

    Fairy Gardening is just an off shoot of dish gardens and terrariums. In fact I see the fairy garden trend morphing into terrariums as large as 300 gallon aquariums.

    We just added Home Brewing supplies at Adams Fairacre Farms in Wappinger NY. Turned out many of our gardening customers are home brewers and wine makers as well.

    They also have dogs and cats and we sell pet supplies. Garden centers need to change more to adapt to lifestyles in general not just gardening.

    The TROLL

    • Off-topic: I just bought both brewing supplies and lots of gardening stuff from that Adams. Thank you for carrying it all!

  2. I have done a “fairy ” garden in the past, and actually intend to do one again this year. It really is mostly about working in scale; at least for me. The change is kind of refreshing after being responsible for a heavily gardened half-acre. Certainly the pain factor is whittled down considerably! However, I do agree with some of what you say, Elizabeth. Some of these things end up being at the back edge of beyond in terms of preciousness. There’s surely a place for them in gardening, as long as they’re done with some semblance of taste.

  3. I think they might be good for kids or people with small spaces. I could see it at a nursing home or medical rehab center. I imagine, though that they would be amazing at 20x. At least people are outside and maybe helping small centers make a little extra. Being 6’9″ a plant isn’t a plant until its 6 feet.

    • Ha ha ha, my ex husband is 6’8″, and he would agree heartily with you about plant size. I had a wonderful collection of very big perennials. Big house, big van, big plants in the big garden. No miniatures.

  4. I’ve long been a fan of moss gardens like the one above. In fact, as a child I tended one in the woods behind my parents’ home, populating it with buildings & bridges formed from scrap lumber & fallen twigs. And matchbox cars driven by people named Mac & Viola (have no idea where I got those names). Until this post, it had not dawned on me that this is the reason I’ve been drawn to the garden miniatures I’ve seen. Can’t make myself buy them, though. Don’t want the resin or to spend money on someone else’s whimsy. I do want the fun of building a miniature world though, so I may just start myself a moss garden. But not a fairy garden.

  5. I’m with you. Recently, I’ve been noticing articles describing how to “invite” fairies into the garden. I can see the appeal for children, but I’m not patient enough to create or maintain a space with small-scale items.

    They look wonderful in photographs; I’m sure they’re quite a challenge to design and execute. I’ll stick with a large shovel and architectural plants.

  6. Meh. I get what you’re saying. Our daughters have played throughout our vegetable and perennial garden with fairies. So this year, we’ll have a dedicated spot for them. I suppose it’s only temporary. But I, for one, am looking forward to helping them design and implement their (wee) vision.

  7. I understand the anti-commercialism of your post, Elizabeth, but it’s the aesthetic of preciousness that I don’t like be it garden, craft objects, art or house decorating and the example of your photo falls into that, I’m afraid. BUT (and this is a big but) I also believe strongly in respecting other peoples choices. It’s just not for me.

  8. I remember as a child setting up a very rudimentary fairy garden underneath my grandmother’s rose bush, but it didn’t hold my attention for long, and while I can admire some fairy gardens I will not be making one of my own.

  9. Children are garden centers future buyers. Fairy gardening is about creativity and the love of gardening for all ages.

  10. I agree w/the sentiments regarding the aesthetics, we’ll just have to make some that feature natural products (bark, twigs). These are the gardens we do at my summer camp w/my inner city at-risk youth. They do not have access to plants, and it’s a great way to introduce gardening – not a lot of space or materials needed, helps them with dexterity, they love the texture/fragrance of the plants we use, and they are low maintenance. It is a fun way to reduce stress, which they need. Lots of pluses. In the winter, it’s a great way to have fun in the Philadelphia winter – cold, wet, not outdoor weather!

  11. I think it’s delightful that children (of all ages) can access some “magic” this way in the garden. My daughters loved it as children and it made for many healthy hours of outdoor creativity in the garden. They fabricated their own fairy “homes” from recycled materials, not store-bought. Aesthetics be damned, sometimes it is good to just PLAY and not worry about what the neighbors, or design-police, think.

  12. …One refreshing tangent to the “fleeting fairy frenzy” is the theatrical model railway garden. Our firm has designed and built a few. Here in the Seattle area, there is a “Puget Sound Model Railway Garden Society”. When carefully crafted, these miniature worlds can fill thousands of square feet…see our efforts here:

    and at The Northwest Flower & Garden Show – here…

    Best to you all. I love your blog!

    Alan Burke, asla
    Landscape architect
    Classic Nursery & Landscape Company
    Design office, Nursery & Garden center:
    Email: [email protected]
    Please visit on Facebook

  13. I find it all pretty gag-inducing, but if it makes people happy, eh, none of my business.

    What I’m wondering is when we’re start seeing great art in the things–in aquariums, you start with mass-produced plastic castles and crap, and then you see those spectacular planted aquariums that are so incredible. So presumably somebody will jump from plastic castles to a fairy garden that’s just breathtaking and refined….but I don’t know if they’ll call it a “fairy garden.”

  14. Miniature Gardens actually do have a history, but most people are unaware of it. In the 1940’s in England, Anne Ashberry created incredible trough gardens. The gardens often went on exhibition and one was even presented to Princess Elizabeth which was a miniature formal rose garden. She used alpines and slow growing plants. She built stone walls and reflecting pools, as there were no stores selling fairy accessories. She developed these gardens for people who were house bound or who had small balconies. A wheelchair could roll up to a raised trough. One of her books is called Gardens On A Higher Level. And let us not forget the small Asian gardens, Bonsai and Penjing. A Trend you say? Anne Ashberry didn’t know what she started and if she is still alive, she must be having a laugh.

  15. Well, I had a train set when I was a kid, and I can see the attraction. Your friend’s garden up there look fine. I have a couple of bonsai, and one of them has a miniature porcelain tortoise. Japanese generally disdain figures in their bonsai but the Chinese will have the occasional fisherman – or tortoise. Restraint is important.

    Thinking of the restraint shown by ten year-old boys, I am reminded that my train set was eventually invaded by a Godzilla model. Miniature disaster and carefully constructed destruction. Maybe I’ll do some nice bonsai ruins with a garden inhabited by unseen fairies.

  16. Fairy gardens leave me cold; just too much “marketing” and not enough gardening. Whimsy is a good thing in the garden, but little miniature landscapes out of doors just get swallowed up, especially on a dry prairie where the pack rats steal the plastic gnomes and mushrooms.

  17. I’m not into buying stuff to put in my garden like that, but my daughter has made fairy beds out of leaves and petals before. It was quite adorable yet fleeting.

  18. I have a fairy garden of sorts that I planted for my wife when she was really sick. It is right out front and viewable from the bay window. I did not put furniture and such in it though. It was all about the plants. Along the back I planted foxglove, rosemary, and lavender. Through the middle I planted snap dragons and miniture roses. In the front was pansies and petunias, with creeping thyme planted through out as ” grass” for the “fairies”. I did have a little frog and turtle figure in the garden. I will say that “fairies”(i.e. butterflies) visited the garden daily, and once the lavender plant grew real big, a rabbit had made a bed underneath it.

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