There was a large storm last summer. Linda Burkard was in her cellar listening to the wind, and heard a tree fall. She was certain that spelled the end of the neighborhood fairy garden. When she went outside to check the damage, the fairy garden was safe. The neighborhood kids told her the fairies protected it.
Burkard lives in Minnetonka, next door to her lifelong friend Erin Hearst. Burkard moved into her home a few years ago and wondered what to do with the large oak tree sitting between her yard and Hearst’s. A neighbor suggested putting in a fairy garden.
“I love gardens, and gardening is one of my favorite pastimes,” Burkard says. However, she had never heard of a fairy garden. “I went to the nursery and found out it was a whole new form of art,” she says.
A fairy garden is small landscape area, often within a larger garden or at the base of a tree, used to create a miniature, fairy-sized world with tiny plants and accessories, to spark the imaginations of kids and grown-ups alike. Fairy gardens have exploded in popularity thanks to DIY sites like Pinterest; you can even take fairy garden classes at local nurseries and garden centers.
Burkard began getting materials, mostly from yard sales and thrift shops, to create the garden in the spring of 2014. She recruited neighborhood kids, and 12 joined in to plant their own gardens to showcase their personalities. The themes of their gardens are their own: For some, that means keeping their garden strictly for fairies, and for others that means pirates, dinosaurs and Star Wars figurines.
The full garden is about 300 square feet and has 11 smaller gardens within its bounds. Outside the garden is a small mailbox where the kids can get messages from the fairies who oversee the garden.
As the garden became popular with neighborhood kids, it turned into a community attraction. “There’s a big sign that says ‘Community,’ and that’s really what it’s all about,” Burkard says.
Almost everyone in the neighborhood has helped out with the garden in one way or another. Some families paint signs, some leave little treasures in the garden for kids to find, and others help with maintenance.
The fairy garden season begins in the spring with the inaugural Fairy Garden Night, which then occurs monthly. Featuring a talent show, the evening is a sort of opening ceremony for the gardening season. The children present skits, drama and musical recitals, juggling acts and various other skills on a stage that was built just for them. Often, parents and other grown-ups get in on the act.
Part of the appeal of the fairy garden is that it keeps the kids active and busy, and Burkard makes it a point to include some educational elements, too. Every decision made about the fairy garden is put to a vote—things like whether to make space for a new member, and whose garden will be planted where. (The kids even voted on whether they wanted this story featured in Lake Minnetonka Magazine.)
As the garden has grown, it has turned into a way for everyone in the neighborhood to get to know each other. While the kids spend time at the garden almost every day during the summer, they also hold monthly Fairy Garden Nights where the adults join the fun.
Following the kids’ meeting, there is Ping-Pong, bonfires and s’mores. It has become a way for everyone in the neighborhood to get to know each other and foster a sense of community.
Kristan Bills has four kids, and lived across the street from Burkard until recently. She and her husband bought a new house just a few blocks away in the neighborhood. Her daughters Greta, 8, and Ingrid, 6, especially love the fairy garden. Bills says the girls spend much of their time during the summer working on their fairy gardens. Bills says her own favorite part is the community aspect. “It’s great to have something on our calendar to get together with our neighbors,” Bills says. “It’s fun to see everyone getting involved.” Greta and Ingrid’s brother Charlie, age 3, also has a garden—and the group voted that newborn sister Lily will have a garden spot when she’s old enough.
When the summer winds down, everyone gets together for one last closing ceremony in the fall. After the final party wraps up, the kids store their gardens in basements or garages until the following spring. During the winter months, a large fairy statue sits outside the garden, protecting it until the snow melts away.
Come spring, the fairies return and the community is back at it again. The garden has become something completely unexpected for Burkard—and it’s now something she says she couldn’t live without.
“I have done a lot of things in my life in business, socially and in the community,” Burkard says. “I think this is one of the finest things I’ve seen—establishing a community and seeing everyone get to know their neighbor. Every neighborhood should have a garden.”
For supplies and instructions for making your family’s own fairy garden, check out Tonkadale Greenhouse, which specializes in fairy garden lore and equipment. They even offer occasional drop-in workshops for kids.