Susan Bradley loves the beach, especially Grandview Nature Preserve near her home in Hampton, Va.
When she can't get there, she enjoys a bit of beach at home - as part of a new miniature fairy garden in her back yard.
In a corner, there's a sandy shore done with desert sand. Itsy bitsy sunglasses rest on a small round table next to a beach chair, and flip-flops smaller than a fingernail are flung in the sand. A beach pail the size of a thimble holds a collection of seashells; a fishing pole waits to be used.
That corner of the garden was only the beginning for what is now a 3-by-5-foot landscape that she and son-in-law, Joey Lawrence, built with 2-by-10s, 2-by-4s and 4-by-4s. It stands on legs for easy viewing from the back porch, and is filled with a mushroom compost and sifted topsoil mix.
Once the beach was done, Bradley added a graveled walkway that leads to a fairytale-style stone house where a smiling fairy greets you. Two more fairies are seen in the landscape created with living miniature trees and shrubs - Fairy Hair Japanese maple, dwarf cypress and a Corokia contoneaster, commonly called wire-netting bush. White-flowering bacopa trails across a black metal arbor. Koi swim in a pretty pond, and a bird bath waits for visitors.
"The sky is the limit on what you can do," says Bradley, her sun-tanned face beaming like a child at Christmas.
"You can theme your garden however you want.
"I now just wish I had made it bigger."
After researching and planning, Bradley ordered her house and most accessories online, choosing everything for a 1-to-12 scale. She paid $300 for the house but much less for other mini accessories like a picnic table, grill, push mower, shovel and spade, working wishing well and fence.
Bradley purchased her plants locally, paying $80 for the special maple and $5-$16 for other plants. She uses Elfin thyme for grass and other herbs for accent plants; mosses and succulents work nicely, too.
"I would rather hold and see the plants in person," she says.
For Jennifer Leslie, fairy gardens bring back warm childhood memories. She's done several small container and hanging-basket styles for her yard in nearby Newport News, Va., and recently ordered a gazebo with a weather vane and other accessories to create more.
"I grew up playing with miniature dollhouse," she says.
"It has always been a project on my list to restore the dollhouse that my dad made me when I was 10. The miniature fairy gardens give me the pleasure of creating and caring for a miniature garden without the time and expense it would take to restore my dollhouse.
"I often find myself lollygagging about my yard, gazing at the miniature gardens. One morning, the lemon thyme was waving back and forth, and I found a miniature praying mantis living in one. How perfect!"10 FAIRY GARDEN TIPS
• Place your fairy garden where everyone can enjoy it - near a path, next to a bench or by a main entry.
• Locate it in a part-sun location - morning or afternoon, but not both - for best plant health.
• Use a container with good drainage and fill with a high-quality potting soil; make it freeze safe, too.
• Pay attention to plants - the size of the leaf matters as much as the overall plant or tree size.
• Use dwarf conifers as tiny shrubs and trees as garden structure first, creating the "bones" of the garden.
• Keep furniture, accessories, stones and gravel in same scale; large rocks make good "boulders."
• Add patios, walls, bridges and other hardscape items.
• Protect the garden from heavy rains and wind.
• Enjoy it seasonally - plant a mini tree to decorate for Christmas; add a tiny bale of hay or resin pumpkin for Halloween; fly a flag for patriotic holidays; and place some hearts for Valentine's Day.
• Consider an in-ground garden - they are little work, only need weeding and fresh mulch annually. These gardens can go indoors, too.
"I think the fascination of these gardens is the imagination they inspire for young and old," says Pam Shank, owner of Landscapes in Miniature in Harrisonburg, Va.; LandscapesInMiniature.com or 540-443-7562.
Find more tips and photos from Landscape in Miniatures at Kathy's blog: roomandyard.com/diggin.NEW BOOK
"Fairy Gardens:A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World" by Betty Earl tells what fairy gardens are and how to make and care for them, relates fairy lore, introduces the plants associated with fairies, and describes miniature plants for fairy and mini gardens, indoors or out. There's information on building or buying accessories for these fantasy gardens. $20; Mackey Books at mackeybooks.com and amazon.com.
Kathy van Mullekom is gardening columnist for the Daily Press, Newport News, Va.; e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her at roomandyard.com/diggin, Facebook.com/kathyvanmullekom, Pinterest.com/digginin and Twitter.com/diggindirt.