by Kerry Elson and Ysabel Yates
In a thriving suburban backyard, at the base of a towering oak tree, lies a tiny ceramic toadstool, some fresh moss, and a handful of stones arranged in a fanciful display of whimsy. This is a fairy garden: a rare habitat full of activity and mirth, and a vital part of our planet’s magical ecosystem.
This morning, the woman who lives in this home is nestling a tiny bench into the soil. She is a fairy gardener, a fearless caretaker of these rare and flighty creatures. Although she has never seen a fairy with her own eyes, she knows her diminutive furniture has attracted many to this fertile sanctuary over the years.
Her bench placed, the fairy gardener pats the soil and retreats inside for a bowl of Morning Oat Crunch. In her absence, the fairies begin to explore the new bench. Although it is far too large for them to sit on, it will make a wonderful stage for important fairy announcements.
Listen! The self-appointed captain of the hive, Nancy, is making one now, reminding everyone to please tighten the lid of the honeysuckle jam before putting it back on the communal pebble. A timely news item indeed, as we can see that her shirt is covered in sticky jam.
Now let’s turn our attention to the lawn. Here, in the freshly cut grass, a young fairy learns to ride a snail. Watch how they deftly maneuver it around the fairy gardener’s wheelbarrow, a process we have sped up 5,000 times to show in its entirety.
To us, snails move at a glacial pace. But for fairies, it is the perfect speed. Fairies use this precious time commuting on snails to review proposals for pranks to pull on the chipmunks. It’s a rivalry that dates back millennia, when the first fairy saw a chipmunk and replaced its newly procured acorn with a stone. Cheeky!
Our young fairy seems to have gotten the hang of riding snails. But they face a new challenge: tonight's tulip dance. Spring tulips have appeared, and soon, the gardener’s golden retriever will rip the flowers out of the ground. So the fairies must hurry, but they must get it right, for the delicate tulip dance requires skill, precision, and elaborate costumes.
Look! Those flashes of glitter are the fairies in their sequined outfits. When we zoom in, we see they are not empty-handed. The fairies are adept at fashioning tools from found objects. Last year, they made trampolines out of discarded balloons. Tonight, they have crafted something even more daring: tiny trapezes made of golden retriever hair.
At last, the breathtaking moment has arrived: a thrilling swing on the trapeze from one tulip blossom to another in a stunning aerial dance routine.
“Murphy!” the fairy gardener calls out. The golden retriever is on the prowl. Quick, fairies, quick! The final fairy does a mid-air somersault and hops off the tulip seconds before the jaws of the beast descend on the blossom, wrenching it from the soil as the fairy gardener sighs.
Back at the hive, the fairies giggle in unison. But the moment is fleeting. Nancy is already pulling out her new set of dance step diagrams. It is time to plan for coneflower season.
The fairies are good at staying hidden. But if we look at our world closely, we will see evidence of their existence. A piece of bark leaning against a mushroom, like a slide. Half of a tiny sandwich made of clover lettuce, wild strawberries, and honeysuckle jam. A disgruntled chipmunk, holding an acorn-shaped rock and shaking his paw at the sky.
Astonishingly, only .0001% of homes contain fairy gardens, which makes environments such as this one quite special. It is because our fairy gardener was brave enough to believe—no matter how many people said, “So you make … fairy gardens…?” in a condescending tone—that these fairies could call her home their home.
This suburban grassland supports countless species, including our fairy friends. The future of these mischievous, flower-obsessed creatures depends on having many more fairy gardens in which to live, dance, and commute on snails. We must seek to preserve them, one ceramic toadstool at a time.