Garden Center’s State of the Industry Report is meant to survey the overall health of the independent garden center market, but it also helps to better determine trends and how they change over time.
According to the results from the 2016 study, fairy and miniature gardening, for a large part of the country, is showing no signs of slowing down. Of the six departments that respondents reported increased the most in the spring of 2016 when compared to 2015 sales, fairy/miniature gardening was No. 3, with 47 percent indicating that sales in the category rose.
In addition, fairy/miniature gardening was one of the two hottest trends reported among garden centers in the Midwest and in Canada.
Miniature gardening may be a growing category, but fairies, benches, plants and other items are shrinking as consumers seek tinier landscapes for their itsy-bitsy worlds.
Teacup and other small-space fairy gardening is not new, but the popularity seems to be picking up. Search Pinterest for the specific subcategory, and a range of inspiring creations appear, both realistic and imaginative in both old-world and modern vessels, topped with succulents, sand, fairies, mermaids, flip flops and more.
Anna Badding, manager at Badding Bros. Farm Market and Garden Center, says although the category is not new for the East Amherst, N.Y., garden center, the company has seen a spike in interest recently. They started offering fairy gardening six years ago, but started small.
“They weren’t sure how big it would be, if it was just a trend or actually going to be a department,” Badding says. “It is definitely [a category] that we see is here to stay. Over the past couple of years, we’ve expanded our inventory … now it is a staple in our inventory and our overall spring, summer, fall, and winter program.”
Show and tell
With a department like miniature gardening, it’s important to balance regular customers who desire fresh products with the needs of newbies looking for staples. Badding Farm’s teacup fairy gardens have performed particularly well with a range of shoppers this year.
“[Teacup fairy gardens] really came on the scene last year, and we really saw a big push for the [tiny pieces] for teacup fairy gardening,” Badding says.
Badding Farm creates miniature worlds in antique teacups, which were meant to be displays to help inspire customers interested in fairy gardening. Eventually, customers started asking to buy the displays, which led to a new sales opportunity: pre-planted fairy gardens.
“People always want to buy what we create, so we’ve seen a lot of success with the pre-planted teacup fairy gardens. That’s something we’re going to do more of this year,” she says. The fairy gardening teacups one of her suppliers offers specifically for the hobby are the most popular, and feature a variety of designs.
“I’ve seen the holiday-themed fairy mugs do a lot better because I think people are typically buying them for a gift or they want it already done,” she says.
When people buy individual pieces, however, they often opt to use their own family heirlooms that they can design themselves and keep, she adds.
“We really just use our old china pieces for displays to give it that look of the teacup fairy garden, and the old and rustic,” she says.
This year, Badding Farm built a greenhouse that will also serve as event space, and they plan to offer fairy gardening workshops because so many customers have requested them.
People are requesting super-small plants as often as they are asking for tiny figurines, says Reece Burton, acting houseplant manager for The Behnke Nurseries Co. in Beltsville, Md.
Growers ship assortments, and Burton’s challenge has been meeting customer demand for specific, rare items that grow well in small spaces.
“People respond to things that are a lot more unusual. I find it’s difficult to find low-growing plants that stay small,” Burton says, adding that Begonia bowerae, peperomia and Mini Oak Leaf Ficus are some customer favorites. “We get them sparingly, but we also get those people who are hobbyists and come through habitually, so those get picked over quickly.”
Burton often fields calls from customers looking for particular plants, and she sends photos with plants next to quarters so customers can see the scale.
“Within the past year and a half, [demand has] increased,” Burton says. “Our ordering has increased.”
At Badding Farm, Badding is seeing customers favor small succulents over some of the more traditional fairy garden plants like ferns and polka dot plants.
“We’ve tripled how many succulents we’ve raised,” Badding says. “We’ve always grown some succulents, but we’ve done a lot more this year. We were nervous because this isn’t California — we’re in Buffalo. We grow a lot of compact succulents that don’t tend to stretch, like echeveria.”
The smallest plants, like hens and chicks and succulents growing in 2.5-inch containers, have been the hottest sellers.
“They play very well with fairy gardens because they are so easy to take care of,” she says.
Part of their success is likely due to the inspiring displays they create.
“There are some odd items that we have, like a tub of beer, a flamingo, a grill and a lawn chair. We [paired them] with sand and succulents to give customers different options for how to use fairy gardens,” she says. “It’s about not being afraid to inspire and get creative, because your customers are going to follow suit.”