Starting Your In-Ground Fairy Garden

At right – From our current miniature garden built in-ground, photo taken in spring of 2016.

See also our other page: Garden Basics: In-ground Miniature Gardening! Especially if you are starting a new garden bed from scratch. Click to see it.

  • And if your the kind of person that doesn’t have the patience to plan extensively and “wing-it” by just jumping in, plan it right in the garden bed. This is what I end up doing for most of my projects – it’s easiest and you can visualize it right in the garden, of course.


  • In this photo on the right, I used a rope to designate the garden bed area first, then placed the pots in and started to design from there.


  • More: Use the potted plants or empty poly pots to stand-in for the plants, a cardboard box to stand-in for the hill, to get your idea started. If you like to begin holistically this way, that is, considering everything simultaneously with all the ingredients at your fingertips, you may open up the opportunity for happy accidents and extend your playtime even more.
The way to begin your in-ground fairy garden will depend upon what kind of person you are.

  • If you enjoy a precise planning process, measuring out the space carefully on paper and you can envision how the plants will look in the garden, then spend the time doing so. It is more cost- effective this way as you will be able to get pretty close to the number of trees, plants and patio materials that you will need.


  • If you like to plan on paper but can‚Äôt gauge the size and look of your garden from a small drawing, literally draw your garden out in full-size by taping several pieces of paper together, making it the same size as your garden bed, and laying it out on the floor or lawn. Then you can start placing the plants on the paper and begin your design. (I’ve done this for a client’s garden so I can literally show her what will happen.)


  • I’ve used chalk to draw right on my back cement lanai or garage floor to outline the space and begin the design. Get the dimensions from your garden bed and draw them on the floor. The chalk will easily wear off or wash off – or you can rub it off here and there and amend it at will.


  • Any of these methods will give you a very good perspective on where to place the bigger trees, the houses, as well as the major focal points like a pond, riverbed and patio areas. By taking this step to plan the project out, you’ll be much more confident when you go to purchase the “right plants” for that spot. Then you can place¬† everything right on the drawing and rearrange at will beforehand before you dig in.


  • Remember, just because it’s a plan doesn’t mean it’s carved in stone. It’s just a place to start your thinking.


Another Fun Way to Just Start

Here is one fun way to start planning and building your fairy garden right in your existing garden bed right away. Begin at the front of the garden bed, away from any full-sized paths or doorways, and look for a good plant to put at the entrance point. Pick a spot between two low shrubs or next to a boulder for a way into your fairy garden. This is where you will start placing your fairy garden accessories.

Whether it is tiny arbor¬†at the start of a path or¬†a wee fairy sign¬†directing the way, this¬†will act as a signal that¬†something is going on.¬†If the only thing in full-view is the start of a¬†pathway, a tiny mailbox¬†or fairy signpost, this works as perfect bait to¬†lure the observer in¬†closer, teasing their¬†natural curiosity. They won’t be able help themselves follow the path to see where it leads.

Now that you have your entrance into the garden bed and a rough plan to start planting, you should home-base for your fairy house or village.

Once the starting point and endpoint for the house are decided, you can have fun creating a path between the two. Loop the trail around the other plants in the garden bed, down and through the bushes and then wind it back to home base. Create stops for the fairies along the pathway with a bench to sit upon or a teeter-totter for a bit of playtime. Don’t worry about seeing the whole path from one vantage point either; fairies can go through bushes and woodpiles. This is where you can gradually add different themed scenes if you want to explore your different ideas. It is also a great place for any extra accessories you may have on hand.

Just a Couple More Considerations

Think of how the viewer will see your main fairy garden. Do you want to show the whole scene at once? Or make the viewer walk around to a predesignated spot perfectly chosen for viewing your fairies? Do you even want them visible by everyone? Maybe the garden is a secret one that is just for a chosen few. Also consider if can you reach it easily to maintain the spot without walking on the rest of the garden plants?

There may be many spots in your garden to place a house and plant a miniature garden, but choose a spot that will be fun to work with and fun to work in.

This is the before photo on the right of another garden bed that is on the corner of our plot. It’s a well-trafficked area with a school across the street, so I wanted to put the scene back from the street a bit.

About 2 1‚ĀĄ2 years later. Tucking the scene next to small shrubs, and planting smaller plants around it, will help your fairy garden blend-in better with your full-size garden. It will add age to the scene to make it look more established.¬†The ground cover is Wooley Thyme.

So, how big?

Do you want to create an extensive neighborhood with several houses? Do you have the space for a scene as well as room for you to sit comfortably while you work on it? Or, will it be a single house with a cute little garden around it? What will YOU like to see? Welcome your limitations at this point, whether it is a space or a budget limitation, with the knowledge that you can always build more and expand on it anytime. Too many options gathered too fast often leads to a cluttered scene that won’t engage the viewer as well as it could.
By making all these decisions for your fairies before you start, you will have a better idea of how far your accessories and plants will go.
It is better to have one organized spot that is done well, than to have your furniture and houses strewn loosely across the garden bed in an attempt to fill it up. Tighten-up the placement of the houses and accessories in one place to start, but leave some room for the miniature plants to grow in and weave together.
This photo on the top, right was submitted by Joyce for one of our contests that we used to hold yearly.
The photo on the bottom, right is from our West Seattle house where we rented for about 6 years. This was at the front of the house, next to the sidewalk.
From the Gardening In Miniature Book:
  • Getting a Little Green On, page, 38
  • Indoor Vs. Outdoor Plants, page 114
  • Hardiness Zones, page 122
  • Soil Basics, page 124

Ideas for controlling the fairy garden sprawl

  • Build the garden on a stump with the main scene on top of the stump, and the scene spilling down to the ground with weeping plants and/or fairy ladders.
  • Assemble walls for your fairy garden area with cinder block place on the side, and plant in the holes. Leave one or two blocks on their side for the fairies to sneak out and in. Create different ways in and out of your fairy kingdom with ladders or swings.
  • Plant a border of low-growing, fairy-approved herbs and flowering annuals or perennials, layering the height of the plants with your full-sized garden. (Okay, all plants are fairy approved but go for the country garden flowering ones!)
  • Use small fallen logs (thick branches) around the perimeter. Nestle small rocks and low-growing plants beside them to make it look purposeful.
The small plants around the patio area helps this vignette look realistic. I didn’t crop out that fairy house intentionally so you can see how the scene looks a little disjointed. If the house was a resin fairy¬†house, the scene would make more sense.

Fairy gardens are also a great idea if your full-sized garden is still young and your waiting for the full-sized plants to grow in. You can have endless fun with paths, dry riverbeds and small scenes tucked here and there. Smaller perennial ground covers can be moved easily if they eventually grow where you don’t want them or interfere with your full-size garden design.

Plant taller anchor trees on the back corners of your garden and start to layer the plants sizes from there. Mix up the textures of the foliage but match or compliment the colors.

Plan and plant with the leaves in mind rather than the fleeting flowers so you can enjoy it year round. Design it like it was a garden in front of your house. Note the spread and growth-rate of the ground covers and keep in mind that they will need dividing or replacing every two or three years. Use rocks as boulders and sticks as logs and tuck them in behind the plants and trees to make it look more established.

Many miniature and dwarf garden trees and shrubs start out as small shrubs and grow slowly to become terrific little trees in perfect scale. It will take years for them to outgrow the scale and some of them can be pruned to slow-down the growth even more.

Using Different Themes at Once

If you do want to explore several different themes or ideas, you can create new areas for each one and have fun connecting them with pathways to give you more opportunities to deliver your message(s.) It is tempting to fill the area up with all your ideas but try not to.
The paths and open spaces not only lead the eye around the garden, it also gives the eye a rest from all the details.
This is similar to how design theory and the use of negative space works. Negative space, or the unused space around the focal point or scene, does two things: relieves the eye and puts the focus where you want it to go. As in your full-size garden design, don’t make the entire fairy garden viewable all at once.
Force the viewer to interact with your fairy garden, make them get closer, lean down, walk around and have fun with the different viewpoints to make it more fun for the viewer. Reward them too, by tucking in a garden animal under a shrub, making a path to nowhere or having the path loop and travel to another garden bed.

More from the Gardening in Miniature Book:

  • Scaled Design Basics, page 40
  • Shrinking the Design Rules, page 55
  • Patios and Pathways, page 66
  • A Dry Riverbed Project, page 193

Remember to make room for yourself to get in the middle of your fairy scene so you can maintain the garden comfortably. Make a spot for yourself to kneel comfortably or to put a small stool – or both – so you can keep playing and not worry about trampling plants or, even worse, hurt yourself by sitting in an awkward position for too long.

Since hitting menopause, I haven’t been able to sit on the ground comfortably for long periods of time, (I really think more yoga would help!) So I took an old pillow that isn’t worthy for the Sally-Ann, wrapped it in a small blanket and it works like a charm. It’s cushy and cozy. As long as I keep it dry it will work like a kneeler – but much more comfortable!

More in-ground fairy gardens from our Facebook contests that we used to hold through Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center.