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GARDEN MAIDEN: Open your garden to the Fae folk

Rooting Celtic folklore in your home landscape

The smell was new to me. I looked around in between open bags of soil mix and organic fertilizer attempting to put my nose on it.

Peculiar and unfamiliar, I suspiciously inspected the new greenhouse supplies for synthetic growth injections or ready-made pest control. The stamp of OMRI approval interrupted my inquisition temporarily as I continued potting up bare-root peonies. For a moment, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, imagining the smell of these blooms-to-be come June 1. I rather innocently snooped from the potting station to the watering trough, snickering a bit at how death of a loved one has you pulled into believing so much more than earthly matters.

As I misted the pots, I smelled it again. As if an angelic presence was scolding my doubt in a realm beyond physicality.  

This time it was an exceptionally alluring, sweet invitation racing through my regular arsenal of healing essential oils. Almost almond, closer to ylang ylang, but simply something I had never smelled before.   

As I dug my hands deep into the tub in search of a pool of water to blend with the layer of dry peat moss, my nose landed smack dab in the center of English primrose blooms. The smile on my face was nearly enough to move the clouds away from the dreary day as I realized a magical greenhouse was happening. I do not have to wait for blooms of roots 12 weeks out. Instead, the gift I received from my husband after a recent trip out West was already the first of the many invites to the Fae folk, better known as faeries.

Planning a fairy garden

Just a few weeks back on the wake of recovery and resolve, I decided that a main focal point of my gardening this coming season would return to the magical realm of everyday miracles. A magical kingdom cloaked among the veggies and herbs seems a wealthy reminder of believing in nature elements to direct energy, ease the chaos of humanity and comfort my path to healing.

So began the design of my fairy garden: An intention to simply invite the magic in and allow the beauty, healing and wonder glisten through the pearly gates of my garden retreat.

Rooted in Celtic folklore, I could sense the faeries while imagining my great-grandmother’s homestead atop a rolling green hill in rural Ireland. She was pure magic herself, always lugging along her accordion to family gatherings, playing Irish tunes for hours with a smile on her face and a jovial nod to get up and dance. She was the dream come true, simply by being the one who chose to get on a boat to cross the uncertain sea when her eldest brother could not muster up the courage to do so. Each time I imagine her growing up, the humble Mannion home is filled with magical kin like leprechauns, pixies and a protective force of tree people, too.

Whether make-believe or believing to make sense of long-lost magic and lore, an imagination can run wild designing a miniature living kingdom to attract faeries and the like.

Colorful, dainty blooms. As ice plant and crocus emerge this week, consider plants that will enchant faeries to your kingdom early in the season. Our favorite cool season bloom, English primrose, emerges twixt velvety leaves popping vibrant shades of yellow, gold, purple, magenta, pink and white. Less common are bi-color varieties of white and pink or shades of red. While the color captures from afar, the aroma woos one close. This heavenly smell is a buttery beam of honey filled crème. Faeries expecting sweetbread will just as joyfully shower in the sweet air of Primula vulgaris, commonly called hardy English primrose.

Friends. Vivid patterns of pansies and motioning mouths of snapdragons are just a couple of selections that make your fairy garden come alive. Magenta torenia, the wishbone flower, not only appears alive and singing out loud, but also gives tiny pixies a cave of light to seek harbor in the shade post-flight.

Hideouts. Secret kingdoms spare no consideration when establishing refuge from interlopers. Many say faeries need a place to hide from humans, too. As my wonderful nephew pointed out to me in the greenhouse over the weekend, it will be very difficult to see the Fae in person because they just do not want to be seen by humans. “Like Santa Claus, you know?”

Vines with trumpet-like flowers or leaning towers of Oriental lilies provide an excellent beacon for Fae folk flying through. Design your fairy garden around fern-leafed blooms such as cosmos and yarrow that weave intricate cover while the Fae folk play.

Elements such as a water source of a tiny fountains spewing into a turned-up thimble invite faeries to rest their wings a bit while flying through.

Sound. We all know that faeries like to dance! Chimes and clacking bamboo fountains may keep time, but naturally, many plants in the landscape have a song of their own. Prairie drop seed and northern sea oats are common sensory garden grasses. Eucalyptus is my pick this season, offering a silvery glow in the moonlight all summer long until its invigorating scent fades to dollops of whirling trinkets on strong stems spinning their song on the fall breeze. Summer sways of lush butterfly bush plumes and stiff stems of mophead hydrangea draping across an evening summer breeze make my nature’s music list, too.

Beyond branches and seed pods plinking time, consider attracting the buzz of busy mason bees for your faeries to dance to. Excessive squash blooms and everlasting sedum are two spots where I have literally stopped in my tracks while weeding the garden to wonder what I was hearing. Attracting pollinators to the garden not only makes a wing full of wonderful music but also appeases the very social nature of faeries.

Offer adventure and wonder in many layers. The more nooks and crannies to explore, the longer your magical visitors will rest. Trail coleus tiers in the cavern of a sideturned, rusted out wheelbarrow, elongating its stems from a single planting at the base. The saw-toothed, pointy leaves of lofos climbing to heights of 8 feet or more offer an opportunity to link separate kingdoms with a living vine.

As a child, I’d pick up rocks. Pink granite, rustic red sedimentary rocks, tiny pebbles of black and red and white. I’d collect them, line them up, match them and then give them up one by one as I plopped them into the creek, bestowing my wishes upon the echoes of the bullfrogs sure to bellow them onto the intricate wings of the dragonflies in flight. For a moment, just recalling the act has me believing.

Rocks, crystals and even colored class offer waves of travel between Fae kingdoms and the earthly realm. Add some trinkets such as the chips of jade pebbles I cast into a Haegar pot to multiply the fuzzy succulent recently gifted by a dear friend. All of these small tokens of love and connection with each other leads to another window of kindness where magical realms can enter.

So, the next time sunspots linger on the wet leaves in your garden and quick blitzes of glimmering light shimmy you into a moment of wonder, beyond shadows of ghastly doubt and deeper than glimmers of angelic signs, you may be witnessing a co-existing realm of magical Fae folk welcomed into your garden.

HOLLY KOSTER is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener who resides in Grand Ridge. She can be reached by emailing; via Twitter, @gardenmaiden9; or on Facebook,

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