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Fairy Gardening is Bringing Miniature Plants Back

In investments and information technology circles the 90's will be remembered for the dot-com bubble burst, but that same decade another bubble burst that I didn't think many people noticed. In the late 90's I was at the height of my fascination with all things bonsai. My interest in bonsai lay primarily with shohin and mame bonsai. Because of their miniature status it is hard to find accent plants that help sell the illusion of their size. So along with a bonsai obsession I also developed one for miniature plants. Miniature plants that the recent fairy gardening trend is helping bring back into popularity.

Fairy Garden in Chicago

Around 2003 I noticed that it was harder to source miniature plant material when I wanted to get back into the bonsai hobby after abandoning it for a few years. A year later I noticed that it was even harder to find small plants when I wanted to create a terrarium and a vivarium. It used to be that you could walk into a garden center or nursery like the now defunct Frank's Nursery & Crafts and walk out with enough small plants to fill miniature gardening needs. Plants potted in pots not much larger than you thumb could even be found next to registers at convenience and drug stores as impulse buys. Some of the plants you could find were indeed dwarf varieties of larger plants, but some were just cuttings of larger plants growing in a florist foam-like medium. It was a great time to be alive if you were into miniature gardening.

Then one day all of these small plants went away and you had to buy them on the Internet from specialty growers.

This past summer at the Independent Garden Center Show I noticed that there was a large variety of miniature plants and accessories for fairy gardens. There were almost as many vendors that appeal to fairy gardeners as there were vendors that sell full-sized plants and gardening tools. I spoke to one of the vendors about why there were all of a sudden so many miniature plants available this year. We talked about how the market for her miniature plants dried up around ten years ago. She had no explanation as to why the miniature plant bubble burst-it just did. One day retailers just didn't want to carry her plants and the orders stopped coming. But the recent trend of fairy gardening, and the terrarium fad to a lesser extent, are changing all of that and she can barely keep plants in stock.

Fairy gardening is serious business now.

It isn't just kooky gardeners in billowy clothes creating fairy gardeners either. Parents are using them as gateway gardens to get kids interested in gardening. Fairy gardens are even draws on garden walks. The fairy garden pictured here was highlighted on this year's Lincoln Square Garden Walk in Chicago as an example of urban gardening.

Fairy garden: Miniature garden in birdbaths

Yes, fairy gardens are urban gardens too. And why couldn't they be when you consider that a full-sized garden is out of the question for people with small spaces or those who don't have time to tend to a garden? You can achieve the same effect and reap the benefits of creating a garden in something the size of a bird bath. This fairy garden was created with a few miniature hostas, ferns and plants you can pick up in the greenhouse of just about any big box garden center. Moss, stones and miniature garden furniture and accessories complete the look.

I for one welcome this fairy gardening trend and the miniature plants it is bring back into popularity. I just hope it sticks around long enough so that I can plant the bottles, aquariums and bonsai pots that have been gathering dust these past 10 years as I waited for these plants to make it back onto the shelves of my local garden centers and nurseries.


  1. Glad to see mini-plants coming back - will look for them. I'd love to do a terrarium (that spelling doesn't look right, but Word seems happy with it?) again. Don't really have good light for "normal" plants inside, but that might work for me for the winter.

    Thanks for the suggestion. Happy weekend.

  2. Lol, fairly ironic but for the Garden Faerie, the tomato was the gateway garden. I like some fairy gardens that I've seen, and appreciate the miniature landscapes, but am not so adept (=too clumsy) to work with tiny pieces. If I could, penjing seems fascinating!

  3. Personally, I like this trend. I think miniature gardening, like bonsai, helps foster a closer relationship with our gardens. (And I'm totally stealing your fairy garden in a birdbath idea!)

  4. THANK YOU, MBT!! I've been jumping up and down about this for years - thank you for spreading the joy of miniature gardening. Everyone can have a garden now.

    (Sorry I missed you at the IGC show!)

  5. Ooh I want one! I have so many little figurines, shells, rocks etc. that need a home. If you find a local source for tiny plants, let us know. I miss Frank's.

  6. @webb, You can do something like the gardener who made the mini garden pictured above. She used a mixture of indoor and outdoor plants. There are also a bunch of succulents like sedums you could use that have small foliage.

    @Monica, I don't think I ever told you, but before I met you I thought you were a fairy gardener and that was the inspiration for your name. Imagine my surprise when you didn't wear elf ears and create fairy gardens. :0)

    @Kat, Not my idea so go ahead and steal it. I wish I would've talked more to the gardener who created it. I agree that miniature gardening fostering closer relationships to our gardens. I wonder if the current trend is as a result of the current economic crisis. Are people creating fairy gardens as a form of escapism from our problems? Is it a coincidence that people are building smaller homes and creating smaller gardens?

    @Janit, LOL, yeah, I noticed the past three years that I've known of you online you were one of the people ahead of the trend. Congrats and I hope your miniature gardening biz is reaping the rewards of you seeing this trend coming down the pipeline.

    @Diane, Three years ago I noticed that Sprout Home carried the miniature hostas. The other plants in this garden can be sourced at places like Home Depot. There's two ferns and I believe that's a peperomia below the bird houses. On the right that palm you can find at HD too. I'm not sure what the plant that looks like a tiny schefflera is though. Maybe is a schefflera. Sprout Home does a lot terrariums workshops and I know they have a bunch of mini plants. They're all basically plants for terrariums. And like I said to Webb above there's a bunch of succulents you can use that you can easily find at you garden center.

  7. I tend to wear Viking horns more than elf ears. :) I'm sure I've told you, but others should know, lol: I came up with the name for my business in 2002 when I was doing gardening for clients--I'd come when they were at work, and when they got home everything was taken care of and nice-looking, just as if... the garden faerie had been there.

  8. LauraH7:36 AM

    I just wanted to say that I SO SO SO miss Franks Nursery & Crafts!! I remember shopping there with my parents when I was little, and being able to find so much that the craft stores no longer carry.

  9. Hi MBT,

    I haven't really been attracted to the fairy, but you changed my mind with that wonderful birdbath. That I can relate to, waist high and lovely to look at. Most of the fairy gardens I have seen are so low down they cannot be appreciated. Thanks for the idea!


  10. Anonymous7:03 AM

    Hi There

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    Marietjie Jonker

  11. I've never done a fairy garden myself, but I've been thinking of putting a couple together with my kids. My two oldest girls love the Disney Fairies, so we may as well marry that obsession with gardening. I just hope the gardening obsession long outlives the Tinker Bell obsession :-)

  12. I have no idea why but I kind of love these. They're so cheesy but they still make me smile. Maybe it's because it kind of combines my love of model building and gardening

  13. Hi Mr. Brown Thumb, I too have noticed it's difficult to find small plants for both terrariums and fairy gardens. For now I'm picking up 6 packs of plants like baby's tears, dragons blood, and small houseplants and making do.

  14. Anonymous5:37 PM

    Hello, I enjoyed this post (guess it's been online for quite some time, but...).

    I'm a new member of a great rock garden group. They're super people and extremely knowledgeable botanists and plant propagationists (word?). I respect and enjoy them so much. Yet, I suspect many would think fairy gardening is a frivolous activity and not worth doing.

    For me, though, it combines so many of my interests (gardening, rocks, creativity, organization, fitting ever-more plants into my tiny yard - etc etc). I just think it's a lot of fun and can't imagine why anyone WOULDN'T welcome its resurgence.

    I'm kinda proud of these so I figured I'd share 'em. (Warning: some are decidely goofy ("fairy gardens with a dark edge").

    bunch of fairy gardens I've made

    I also maintain a somewhat regular listing of news articles about trends in fairy gardening (with lots of photos):

    what's happening in the world of miniature and small-space gardens



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