Q&A with Betty Earl, Author of "Fairy Gardens: A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World"

Betty Earl is an author, writer, lecturer, and photographer based in Northern Illinois. Her articles have appeared in American Nurseryman, Midwest Living Magazine, Small Gardens, Backyard Solutions, Old Farmers Almanac, Nature's Garden, Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, and elsewhere. She writes regularly for the Kankakee Daily Journal, and the Diggin' It blog on The Christian Science Monitor. The regional representative for the Garden Conservancy, she gardens on some of the worst clay/road fill "soil" in the state. Betty's latest release is "Fairy Gardens: A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World". Read on for more information about this book and find out how to WIN A COPY from B.B. Mackey Books!

1. What kinds of gardens do fairies like best? How does your book guide the reader in creating a fairy garden?

Just as stories, legends and myths tell us what kinds of herbs and flowers have long been associated with fairies, these same legends also inform us as to the likes and dislikes of these wee folks. We are told fairies love their privacy and favor secluded parts of gardens that provide them with hiding places and moss or thyme for sleeping, dancing and playing. They are vain creatures who love to look at their reflections in water and mirrors or other shiny objects. Though it is said they prefer a slightly wild-looking garden, it is also true that they enjoy a clean yard devoid of litter. Since they are by nature slightly on the lazy side, they appreciate some form of living quarters, be it hand-made or store-bought, benches and chairs to relax on, and tables for their nightly parties and feasts. As a security measure they appreciate a fairy door at the base of a tree so that they may easily travel between our world and theirs should they feel threatened or just need to leave our realm quickly. The book offers suggestions on the likes and dislikes of fairies and the types of gardens they prefer, but ultimately, the creation of a fairy garden is guided by the vision and belief of the gardener. There are no set rules or rigid regulations, nor can we solve age-old mysteries about legendary beings. The intent of the book is to entice individuals to use their imaginations in creating a tiny, inviting world where they can play with fairies. 2. How does your book assist those who need to navigate around time, space or financial considerations? As in our everyday life, all our choices are guided by how much time we have to work on a project, how much space we have to spare for the project, and what limitations do our finances impact on the project. So it is with fairy gardens. The very addictive hobby (and it really is addictive) can be very time-consuming and expensive, or as inexpensive and quick as we make it. If time is limited but money is no object there are a vast assortment of incredible accessories and gorgeous houses out there costing hundreds of dollars, but if we can spare the time yet are on a limited budget great finds can be had at greenhouses, hobby shops, outlet stores, consignment shops, Goodwill, and yard and garage sales. Or we can make them from twigs, pieces of wood and clay. The book defines these choices. And remember, it doesn't matter whether you've spent a fortune or put it together on a dime, you'll have had the pleasure of building a beautiful garden that will entice fairies to visit and, hopefully, to stay.  3. Tell us about your personal fairy garden - what plants does it contain and what design elements does it feature? Since my garden is primarily shade, the push is for colorful foliage, various textures and shapes to accent my outdoor fairy garden. Nestled in a secluded spot under the beautiful spring-flowering fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), while the house, itself, is large and elaborate, the surrounding landscape (and design) is quite simple, yet lush. I would give my eye-teeth to have some dwarf conifers next to the house; however, since conifers need more light than is available in my garden, I rely on perennials for that lush woodland look. A clump of spring-blooming hellebores on one side and blue-green, fernlike foliage of fringed bleeding-hearts (Dicentra 'King of Hearts') on the other, grounds the house to the site. There is a stone patio with a pergola set within a courtyard enclosed by stone walls and a wrought iron gate. As in a typical garden, there are benches, chairs and tables under the pergola where fairies can sit and relax, as well as refreshments in the form of hot dogs, hamburgers, cakes and beverages for them to enjoy. And just in case they get ambitious, there is a grill off to one side, as well. For a jolt of color pots and urns loaded with brilliantly colored resin flowers are scattered about. And since fairies are known to love animals, there are a couple of birdbaths, several bird houses and usually a couple of dogs and kitties lounging about. Plants included within the courtyard: the stunning black and green miniature fern-like leaves of black brass buttons (Leptinella aqualida 'Platt's Black'), mini hostas including a swirling mound of blue with yellowish margins 'Mini Skirt', yellow leafed 'Banana Puddin' and white and green 'Pure Heart', green and white striped Carex oshimensis 'Everest' as well as an area of true moss for the fairies to play and dance on. Immediately surrounding the fairy "estate" there are plantings of various hosta, heucherellas, foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), rounded, heart-shaped European ginger (Asarum europaeum), green-and-gold plant (Chrysogenum virginianum 'Pierre'), lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy'), upright wild ginger (Saruma henryi), several kinds of Solomon's seals (Polygonatum spp), and of course, green with yellow-striped lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis 'Aureomarginata') with tiny white bells for the fairies to ring. Hopefully, the fairies that come to visit my fairy house during the summer months find it to their liking.  4. What advice would you give for those contemplating their first fairy garden? Start small, such as a container garden. Here your space is limited, and the number of accessories and plants will be limited as well. Remember, first and foremost this is a garden - but on a small scale. For the sake of the plants, it is important to decide early on whether your garden will be in the sun or shade. Though cultural requirements for plants must be adhered to for your garden to thrive, let your imagination run wild with the layout. How intricate do you want it to be? Full of pathways, numerous benches and chairs, a house, a stream? Or something simpler, such as a bench, a table and a birdbath surrounded by plants. Pick a theme. The back yard you've always wanted, a rustic cabin in the woods, or that fishing hole you visit every year. If working with a little daughter or granddaughter, maybe that fairy princess fairy garden full or charming, delicate little wrought iron tables and chairs is just the ticket; while your son or grandson might prefer something more on the line of dinosaurs romping through various ferns. 5. Is fairy gardening for the young and old alike? Are fairy gardens a great tool for teaching children about gardening and why? Without a doubt, fairy gardening is for both the young and more mature individuals for fairy gardens allow enchantment to come into our lives. Fairy lore has it that if you provide a hospitable place for fairies in your environment, you encourage fairies to visit. And even if you don't believe in the existence of fairies, working on fairy gardens is a fun and enriching way to spent quality time working on a project, especially if done with a friend, parent, or child. To any child a fairy garden is a magical place, where imaginations run wild, where creativity is encouraged, and their fascination with fairies and their mystical realm simply grows. Imagine the garden through the eyes of a child filled with plants and flowers that they like and think will prove irresistible to fairies. Yes, you will have to guide them in choosing the correct plants, and teach them some very basic cultural requirements. but short of that give them the ownership of the project, making it more likely that the garden will be well taken care of"¦and you just might find a fledging horticulturist on your hands.

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WIN A COPY OF Fairy Gardens: A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World!To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Thursday, May 19, 2016 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:How will you entice the fairies to your garden?Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)

UPDATE 5/26/2016: Congratulations to Anne Nesbitt!

Shelley Pierce

Shelley Pierce was a writer for Gardening Know How, contributing to hundreds of articles for the site.