Fairy Gardening is Bringing Miniature Plants Back

In investments and information technology circles the 90’s will be remembered for the dot-com bubble burst, but that same decade another bubble burst that I didn’t think many people noticed. In the late 90’s I was at the height of my fascination with all things bonsai. My interest in bonsai lay primarily with shohin and mame bonsai. Because of their miniature status it is hard to find accent plants that help sell the illusion of their size. So along with a bonsai obsession I also developed one for miniature plants. Miniature plants that the recent fairy gardening trend is helping bring back into popularity.

Fairy Garden in Chicago


Around 2003 I noticed that it was harder to source miniature plant material when I wanted to get back into the bonsai hobby after abandoning it for a few years. A year later I noticed that it was even harder to find small plants when I wanted to create a terrarium and a vivarium. It used to be that you could walk into a garden center or nursery like the now defunct Frank’s Nursery & Crafts and walk out with enough small plants to fill miniature gardening needs. Plants potted in pots not much larger than you thumb could even be found next to registers at convenience and drug stores as impulse buys. Some of the plants you could find were indeed dwarf varieties of larger plants, but some were just cuttings of larger plants growing in a florist foam-like medium. It was a great time to be alive if you were into miniature gardening.

Then one day all of these small plants went away and you had to buy them on the Internet from specialty growers.

This past summer at the Independent Garden Center Show I noticed that there was a large variety of miniature plants and accessories for fairy gardens. There were almost as many vendors that appeal to fairy gardeners as there were vendors that sell full-sized plants and gardening tools. I spoke to one of the vendors about why there were all of a sudden so many miniature plants available this year. We talked about how the market for her miniature plants dried up around ten years ago. She had no explanation as to why the miniature plant bubble burst-it just did. One day retailers just didn’t want to carry her plants and the orders stopped coming. But the recent trend of fairy gardening, and the terrarium fad to a lesser extent, are changing all of that and she can barely keep plants in stock.

Fairy gardening is serious business now.

It isn’t just kooky gardeners in billowy clothes creating fairy gardeners either. Parents are using them as gateway gardens to get kids interested in gardening. Fairy gardens are even draws on garden walks. The fairy garden pictured here was highlighted on this year’s Lincoln Square Garden Walk in Chicago as an example of urban gardening.

Fairy garden: Miniature garden in birdbaths

Yes, fairy gardens are urban gardens too. And why couldn’t they be when you consider that a full-sized garden is out of the question for people with small spaces or those who don’t have time to tend to a garden? You can achieve the same effect and reap the benefits of creating a garden in something the size of a bird bath. This fairy garden was created with a few miniature hostas, ferns and plants you can pick up in the greenhouse of just about any big box garden center. Moss, stones and miniature garden furniture and accessories complete the look.

I for one welcome this fairy gardening trend and the miniature plants it is bring back into popularity. I just hope it sticks around long enough so that I can plant the bottles, aquariums and bonsai pots that have been gathering dust these past 10 years as I waited for these plants to make it back onto the shelves of my local garden centers and nurseries.

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