Sandy Gathje of Chatfield holds a miniature garden made with succulents and a friendly little arbor.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Sandy Gathje of Chatfield holds a miniature garden made with succulents and a friendly little arbor. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
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The mini world is getting bigger as it gets smaller – and the tiny green is definitely therapeutic.

“I think it’s really very therapeutic…miniature gardening, or what most people call ‘fairy gardening,’” said Sandy Gathje, co-proprietor of Hillside Nursery just outside of Chatfield. “It’s getting popular…you see a lot of it on Pinterest.”

Gerry Gathje agreed, “Miniature gardening is not just a little remote fad, it’s widespread.”

The Gathjes have spent the past few winters cultivating ideas for how to garden even tinier plots of land, even as their ideas for their big landscaping projects have grown.

At the end of the growing season last summer – one marked by numerous visitors to their nursery who came just to pot up an entire garden – Sandy gathered some cuttings from the plants they use to propagate their nursery stock and put them together in a planter to create a little green yard that could be set on their kitchen table, a place they could visit and revisit and rearrange as the season went by.

Gerry explained, “I think the one reason miniature gardening has become so popular is that people can create the world they want to be in, and it’s something to remind them of summer in the winter.”

Miniature gardening, which incorporates found items repurposed into “gnome homes,” diminutive furniture and landscapes overgrown by clippings of succulents, flowers and vining plants, is versatile and very universally-appealing, according to Sandy and Gerry.

They have seen gardeners from 3 years old to 83 years old become enchanted by the tiny topography and charming statuettes, including fairies, frogs, princes, penguins, zebras, dogs, cats, gnomes, unicorns and even rubber duckies.

Gerry related, “Miniature gardening is still growing. I’m actually looking forward to this year. It’s something very manageable, very relaxing, you don’t have to go outside and pull weeds. And I think the neatest thing about miniature gardening is that the whole family gets involved. Kids enjoy putting their little dinosaurs in, and the parents enjoy putting little pots and other things in.”

He said the most fun is seeing moms and dads come and work together with their kids.

“It’s a chance to create the places you’ve wanted to go,” he added. “I’ve always wanted to live in the woods, down by a creek, and while you’re doing this, you can fantasize about being part of that world, the peacefulness and tranquility there. My miniature garden is a replica of what God did, but on a miniature scale.”

 His wife concurred that miniature gardening is manageable and family-friendly and encourages imagination to literally sprout new hillsides and secret coves.

“We’ve had groups come in and do miniature garden planting – we’ve even had a kid’s birthday party here,” Sandy said. “I think it’s also nice for a lot of baby boomers who are getting older. This is something they can do, just not as large a landscape. There’s less work involved…less work and more play. I like creating mini landscapes that I would like to visit if I were small. A lot of people like to be ‘green,’ and I think it’s a part of us. I think the reason we like to be ‘green’ is that we’re created in God’s image.”

The best part of digging in with miniature gardens, Sandy observed, is “there’s no right or wrong,” so if her husband someday wants to “live” on a little kangaroo farm with giant pink Wave petunias overhead, so be it.

 Chatfield Public Library director Monica Erickson has been quite enchanted by fairy gardening for several years now. She has pinned many gardening pictures to her Pinterest board to save for her own gardening, but also as ideas to use for the library’s annual summer reading program fairy gardening project she’s held since 2012.

She recounted that she and her family have been gardening in miniature for quite some time – including her sons – and that the whole venture might have started because of Pinterest.

“I might’ve stumbled onto it when I was starting to use Pinterest. My brother is a landscaper and he builds rustic wooden tables to put in small gardens, so that might be part of why I started fairy gardening,” Erickson said. “I love making fairy furniture. I save bark, twigs. I hot-glue grapevine together to make benches and swings. I’m always looking for new ideas.”

Erickson also said she likes taking a golf tee and putting a marble on top of it to make a gazing ball. She also likes that this little hobby doesn’t take a lot of money.

“We have been fairy gardening on our vacations for a long time,” she added. “We went to the Boundary Waters and made the biggest fairy garden right there in the woods. It’s like playing ‘dollhouse’ as a grownup.”

The library program she holds every summer captivates her because she gets a gnome’s-eye view of what children’s imaginations have in store for them and their summer adventures.

“We make fairy gardens in plastic drip pans, and for the boys, we call them ‘gnome homes’ so that the boys are OK with it,” she added. “We have a great time. I love seeing what the kids make and I love taking pictures of them with their gardens.”

This year, Erickson is still going to host the fairy gardening workshop, but she’s also bringing a new project to the library.

“This year, we’re asking people to bring in their old birdhouses and feeders, and we’re going to have a workshop for the teens to transform them into fairy and gnome homes,” Erickson explained. “When they’re done, they will be put on the plot on the north side of the library to make a fairy garden village. The teens are invited to come in anytime during the summer and work on them. We’ll be bringing in all kinds of fun stuff.”

Erickson advised miniature gardeners – big and small – to dig in and plant whatever they fancy, from little lakeside cottages to bitty beaches shaded by big leaves. She also urged potential fairy gardeners to check out the local library’s collection of books on fairy gardening, as there are many, beginning with the “House Fairy Handbook” by Liza Gardner Walsh and Barry and Tracy Kane’s books, “Fairy Houses, Unbelievable!” and “Fairy Houses, Everywhere!” These selections are perfect for inspiration for building homes for gnomes and fun perches for fairies.