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Fairy Gardening - the Plants part 1


We have had cottage gardens and now prairie gardens are fashionable – so I thought I would expand on an earlier blog theme and talk a bit more about my idea of Fairy gardening. Who knows – perhaps it will catch on?

I went for a walk with my daughter through the woods this morning and she gave me her views on what a fairy garden should be.

“There should be little flowers hiding underneath the trees and shrubs”, she said, “waiting to be found.”

The statement was inspired by the bluebells and wood anemones all around but tracking it back to the garden it was clear that she was also thinking of that hidden flower par excellence – the Cyclamen.

I love Cyclamen, particularly as it flowers when the garden is so bare, and there are quite a few to space out the season but even so, it is nice to have a few hidden treats in the garden later on. I like to think that these might be the type of flowers that fairies would make their clothes out of.

Most woodland plants flower really early so that they make the most of the low dappled sunlight before the trees block out too much of the sun.

One shade lover which is flowering now is the Bergenia. I asked GOYers for advice on what to do to make mine flower, but all it needed really was time!

Retiring and shade loving it may be – but this is far too beefy for a fairy flower methinks. It can stay out of the fairy garden. Something else is needed entirely.

Now that is more like it! Violets positively love to nestle under a shrub and keep their colour better there. They also bob around engagingly on slender stalks which is delightful. This though is a bog standard dog violet and I pine for Parma Violets – not because they smell but because the scent stops you smelling temporarily: that’s why Victorian ladies used the scent in their handkerchiefs. It is that type of magic that I think is key to the effect I want in my fairy garden – something beautiful and yet just a little strange.

Talking of strange. I am growing two types of Corydalis in my garden at the moment. The first is Corydalis Lutea.

This is a really romantic plant because many children come across it first growing precariously in the walls of impossible chocolate box cottages. It is utterly unclear whether the cottage is inhabited by snow white or the gingerbread witch but either way such flowers are part of the temptation.

No use for me in this situation though – it is too partial of the sun I think (unless someone else knows better – please shout)

I digress – really I wanted to show you my other Corydalis which for me is even more romantic – and has the benefit of flowering quite happily in really shady places.

This one is Corydalis Flexuosa – now how weird a flower is that? I bought this specimen from a very lovely cottage in Wivelsfield, Sussex. There is a small tray of juicy specimens at very reasonable prices by the front wall. You post the money through the letter box and that is that. All quite delightful.

Problem is that the first time I bought one the Corydalis flowered its socks off and then died in the winter. I tried again and the same thing happened. Since the winter was not particularly bad I was confused by this, so eventually I plucked up courage to knock on the door and ask what I was doing wrong. I was told to dig it up and overwinter it in a pot, which I did. As you can see it has now sailed quite happily through a horrid winter remaining green even as the snow thawed. I assume that it just can’t cope with winter wet.It spreads quite happily and you just split it up to replant in spring.

This is definitely one for my fairy garden.

Part of the appeal of both the Corydalis and the Violet is that their slender stems allow them to move with the breeze and that is also true of Aquilegia. Aquilegias are growing like weeds in my garden and most of them will have to come out to make way for flowers which will provide colour in the summer. First though I want to be able to judge the colours, and move some of them into the fairy garden.

Both the joy and heart ache of Aquilegias is that they hybridise so easily. Every new plant is a new adventure – and some of them are about as exciting as a walk to the corner shop when you forgot your purse.

That one can come straight out!

The purple Aquilegia is closer to our wild flower – but this one looks quite a mucky colour. I will wait and see how it develops I think.

Now this peachy pink is surprisingly strong and works well with some of the other colours. I’ll be keeping this one. No good for the fairy garden though – the pink would just get lost.

Now that is more like it. I took this photo at 6pm on an overcast (frankly horrid!) day, but white and pale Aquilegias seem to create their own ethereal light and could easily give the impression that there is something flitting around in the gloom. This one I will put in the fairy garden – on the edge where there will be enought light to keep it going.

I’ll leave you I think with a picture of some of the plants already growing there. The ferns are lovely – a really delicate green and they have such an alien nature. I’ve already waxed lyrical about my passion for bluebells. The iris I love too. I assume given the bogginess of the land that this is Iris Ensata Variegata which I read needs full sun. Ho hum! I may have to live without flowers but the sword like shape of the leaves makes it worth it. Not sure about the bamboo though. Most of my plants are far from indigenous but surely bamboo really demands a panda rather than a fairy. Or am I being too literal? I will think on.

I would be really interested in knowing what you would include to entice the fairies!

More blog posts by sussexsarah

Previous post: What a price!

Next post: A walk on the dark side



Sara Like you i love Corydalis flexuosa I also have problems with them in the open ground, However my main problem is slugs they eat the new shoots as soon as they show.I would say they are hardy knowing they are found in China where the Pandas live which is quite cold, that is different to our wet cold so not sure.
Having said that the pots i keep them in would have been froze solid and thats usually worse than being in the ground tempeture wise.
I am experimenting with copper impregnated mat around Clematis which up to now seems to be working might be worth my trying on the corydalis

10 May, 2010


Louise1 blog Little Beauties has a very pretty Erodium and what about Forget Me Not or would that be to tall.

10 May, 2010


Thanks guys. Forget Me Nots are a great idea - I will borrow some from elsewhere in the garden. I'll look out for an Erodium too - thanks for the thought.

I have been using copper tape round some of my plants recently with great success - for some reason the slugs are mainly ignoring the Corydalis but are munching their way through my Asters, so I've had to protect them. I'm having some plumbing work done soon which will liberate a bit of copper pipe which I intend to hoard and see if I can work with.

10 May, 2010


the pipe sounds a good idea even better if a copper tank was coming out they are very thin and once punctured could be cut with strong kitchen scissors

10 May, 2010


For later in the year, in semi shade or sun, Ammi majus, also known as Bishops weed, ladys lace or laceflower. A pure white flower similiar to cow parsley but much more elegant. Was used a medicinal herb in ancient Egypt and is currently undergoing studies as a treatment for cancer and AIDS. Now that would be magical.

A lovely entertaining blog Sarah

10 May, 2010


I've never heard of Ammi Mjus before but it sounds lovely. I currently have a giant hogweed growing down there so it could do with some refining!

11 May, 2010


What a sweet blog. This has inspired me to sniff out another fairy plant or two for you if you like? Yes, they deff make their clothes out of cyclamen! I think certain fuchsias would be nice, but a problem in shade maybe? And those wild wee strawbs, but don't they spread everywhere.
I endorse your thoughts on the bamboo, can't see panda and fairies mixing well, it would be carnage.

15 May, 2010


Wood anemones? They are shade-happy. Is all of your fairy patch in shade?
somehow I think it should be in the shade of a lovely oak (good for fairy household items) but that would have to be a longer-term project for you.

15 May, 2010

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