When Johnson Garden Centers in Wichita, Kan., ventured into fairy gardening, president Jeremy Johnson wasn’t a strong proponent. “I was probably one of the biggest skeptics when we started getting into it seven or eight years ago,” he says. A continual stream of large fairy item purchases and a strong following changed his opinion.
In case you haven’t noticed, Johnson is not alone. In and out of gardens, fairies have captured the public’s imagination. Fairy doors are popping up in communities, and fairy tales enjoy a mainstream embrace. That broadening interest — and the permission it grants kids and adults to pretend — offers opportunities for IGCs willing to work the category.
Establishing your position
Johnson stresses the importance of working to gain recognition as a place to purchase miniature garden plants, figurines and accessories. Social media and the IGC’s weekly e-newsletter spread the word to existing and soon-to-be fairy enthusiasts. Johnson’s staff keeps interest alive and growing, and efforts are paying off.
The community’s local botanical garden — Botanica, The Wichita Gardens — has had several successful fairy-related events in recent years. Now they’re creating a permanent fairy home in their woodland area, and they’ve turned to Johnson’s for help with the constantly changing fairy vignettes.
Winter Greenhouse in Winter, Wis., is well-known for themed display gardens (and you can read more about them in Garden Center’s July 2016 cover story), so a fairy-themed miniature garden came naturally. A dedicated miniature gardening webstore followed in 2010, which caught Amazon.com’s attention. The relationship that ensued helped take Winter’s fairies, plants and accessories to an international audience. They are now an Amazon vendor, with a storefront for Miniature Gardening and Winter Greenhouse.
Spend time on the site, and you’ll discover that miniature gardening manager Kelly Larsen and staff aren’t just fairy gardening experts; they’re experts on fairies themselves. They like to play and personify the figurines. You can see a landscape crew member working on custom hardscapes requested by upscale fairies that moved into Winter’s Fairyhood or learn which types of plants fairies prefer most.
Reaching and teaching fairy recruits
At Dutch Mill Greenhouse in Marysville, Ohio, marketing and outreach director Mattie Berbee leverages social media to keep people informed on activities in Dutch Mill’s Fairy Village. The IGC offers two to three very profitable fairy-specific workshops every season, which have a devoted following.
Designed for all levels of interest and expertise, the workshops invite newcomers and past participants. Pre-existing fairy gardens due for seasonal tweaks, new plants or fresh fairy décor are welcome. “We theme our workshops to be seasonal, and really encourage people to change out their gardens or make a gift,” Berbee says.
At Winter, the website maintains a constant flow of information for miniature gardeners (or IGC owners wondering what makes the category tick). Written content ranges from how-to blogs to fanciful fairy tales. A feature video depicts Fairyhood life, ending with screen credits for the fairy cast. Instructional videos include fairy basics, proper proportions, pruning for miniature plants, and design basics that echo full-scale landscape design.
The IGC produces all of its own content, with multiple greenhouse and landscaping employees involved. In-house production is key in Larsen’s eyes. “I would hope when people go to our website, they find inspiration and see we’re actually doing it ourselves — not just selling it,” she says. “It’s alive, and the people doing it are having fun and being innovative.”
Creating new avenues for interest
Berbee looks for fairy-promoting opportunities outside the norm, one of which involves gifts. The IGC now gives a private fairy gardening class as a donation. “Depending on the value, it’s either you and a friend or you and four friends,” Berbee explains. Each person gets one fairy, one miniature plant and a small pot. “They pick it out and put it together. The private class makes them feel special — and they still buy stuff. It’s a win for everyone,” she says.
Berbee believes that integrating fairies everywhere is essential. “Getting out of the mindset that it has to be a miniature fairy garden is part of our success. If we make a display, we’ll throw a little fairy into it, whatever it is,” she says. A succulent or container gardening workshop will have “fairy trinkets” as popular add-ons.
“People like having a cute decoration in their pot,” Berbee says. “It’s become almost like a gift line for us.”
Remembering the “garden” component
In successful fairy garden departments, plants aren’t afterthoughts. Johnson estimates plant sales account for about half of their fairy-related business. Although the IGC has carried branded fairy plants in the past, they currently offer non-branded plants, which seem to do just as well. Dutch Mill has switched from small plugs, which eventually outgrew their gardens, to miniature plants grown specifically for the task.
Winter Greenhouse takes advantage of in-house expertise to propagate their own fairy plants. They offer a wide range of miniature plants, including small alpines, and a variety of small succulents, which are their best sellers. “As a greenhouse, we like to focus on plants and seek out varieties that work really well in smaller planters,” Larsen says. “We want people to use plants that won’t overgrow the space, so they won’t be disappointed.”
Finding and sharing inspiration
Even with a year-round website, Winter’s fairy garden business peaks alongside the gardening season: April, May and June. Larsen looks to general gardening trends for inspiration, which trickles down to miniatures. If it’s happening in full-size gardens, fairies are doing it, too. “Every time I get a break, I look through all the gardening magazines I get,” she says. Buying trips for regular gift shop items also yield fairy inspiration. “You carry that idea or interest with you, whatever you’re working on,” Larsen says.
Johnson feels inspiration and innovation is vital. “We keep our merchandise mix fresh by working with new and different suppliers, not just reordering the same things,” he says. For example, the IGC works with a local ceramic artist for accessories from tiny stepping stones to seasonal figures. The unique, handmade items appeal to Johnson and his customers. “They’re obviously not mass-produced stuff, and they are still affordable,” he says. “We do very well with those.”
Dutch Mill’s Fairy Village takes cues from real village life. Fairy villagers enjoy springtime with little rubber boots and watering cans nearby, while the Fourth of July calls for U.S. flags. Wintertime finds fairy holidays underway. “We keep it a ‘living’ display of how you can make a fairy garden, and stage it for each season,” Berbee says. “The greenhouse changes, so our fairies go along with that.”
Predicting fairy futures
Trends within the fairy category come and go, but the magic behind them doesn’t. Last year’s hottest trends — fairy mermaids and beach-like fairy scenes — look set to continue this year. Dutch Mill plans to build on Disney-like themes with a workshop focused on fairy princesses, fairy unicorns and fairy garden castles.
Johnson doesn’t offer strong predictions for the category, but he’s clear on its appeal. “It’s a way for children to connect to the garden and for people to connect their inner child to the garden. The aspect of fantasy kind of takes you out of the stress of day to day,” he explains. However, he advises IGC owners to keep a close watch on inventory levels. “They can get skewed, so be careful of that,” he warns.
Larsen believes fairy gardening’s popularity reflects changes in gardening overall. “Whether it’s from Europe or being more urban, the trend in gardening is that things are getting smaller, so in that way it fits,” she says. As with container gardening, compact plants and small-space gardens, miniature gardens — especially fairy-friendly types — seem here to stay.
As manager of one of the first miniature gardening destinations online, Larsen has a unique perspective. “One could say that it is going down, but it’s just that more people selling it. I think it’s continuing to grow,” she says. And the next big trend? Larsen laughs, “I have no idea!”