Fairy houses & gnome homes bring a touch of whimsy to spring gardening

Veggies, herbs can entice children, deter pests

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HIAWATHA — You don’t have to have a green thumb to work a little magic in your gardens.

Flower beds and vegetable patches are the perfect places to plant gnome homes and fairy houses. And they’re surprisingly easy and inexpensive to make.

Fourteen people gathered in the waning days of winter to add a little spring to their step, punctuated by plenty of laughter in a classroom at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center, 120 E. Boyson Rd. in Hiawatha.

By mixing thrift-store finds with fabric scraps, ribbon trims and shiny objects, all walked away with a bit whimsy designed to lure fanciful creatures and curious neighbors to their gardens.

“The reason I like fairy houses is, I’m a gardener,” said instructor Jennifer Kardos, co-director of the nonprofit Backyard Abundance in Iowa City. She specializes in transforming outdoor sites into learning and play spaces, noting that fairy houses and gnome homes are about the only crafts classes she leads.

“I only teach things related to (being) in the garden. That’s where I do my creative thing,” she said.

Her crafting strategy is twofold. Not only are the fairy houses or gnome homes decorative, they also promote healthy snacking.

“I love to make houses and put them in gardens and grow edible food especially for kids,” she said. “I find they really love to eat things (fresh from the garden) ... and of course, growing any flowers around fairy houses is great.

“If kids come by your house, radishes grow really quick — they’re like the fastest growing things,” she said. “Most kids won’t eat a radish normally, but if it’s the first thing they can try out in a garden, almost always they’ll try a bite, even if they won’t finish it. It’s fun watching them do that, so I put those out early in the spring.

“Any herbs, like cilantro and parsley, dill, basil, chamomile — they’re good at deterring pests and keep you from having to buy those herbs at the store, because they grow all season long. (Read more: Best plants for fairy gardens)

“A lot of times, where there’s fairy gardens, I also put up little tepees made out of bamboo sticks and grow things like beans or snap peas or cucumbers up there,” she said, adding that fast-growing greens and cherry tomatoes also make good taste temptations.

“Once you put the fairy houses out, then I find that the kids want to go visit, so if you planted some arugula or spinach, which is ready in six weeks, they see it grow and they want to try it,” Kardos said.

Most of those plants and more — including edible flowers — will be available at the Backyard Abundance Plant Sale, held from 9 to 11:30 a.m. April 29 at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center in Iowa City.

Ava Pitkin, 8, of Marion, is an old pro at making fairy houses and their wee inhabitants. She’s attended past classes, came back for more, and will be taking another class in Iowa City.

“I really like making the fairies,” she said, “and creating the houses.”

She described her evening’s creation as “beachy,” and it most likely will be planted in her room, rather than outdoors.

Ashlyn Dickson, 7 1/2, of Cedar Rapids, was excited to be making her first fairy house, and liked experimenting with all the pretty things that could be glued onto the recycled structures.

The houses came from a local thrift store, and varied from bird houses large and small to a hollow gourd and a large stair-step basket. Buttons, tiny mirrors, tiles, shiny stones, flat glass marbles, seashells and various grasses and greenery combined with drops of hot glue and heaps of imagination to decorate the houses.

Wooden clothespins wrapped in bits of fabric, lace and ribbon and topped with flowers or conical hats became the fairies and gnomes that could take up residence in the fancy new digs, and beckon kindred spirits.

Kirby Sherman, 66, of Waterloo, another veteran fairy-house builder brought along her kindred spirit, Mica Lorenz, 68, also of Waterloo, to experience firsthand the joy Sherman finds in this hobby.

“We both like fairy gardens,” said Sherman, who has taken other classes at Prairiewoods. Then Lorenz chimed in: “I’m really into fairy gardens, and Kirby knew that.”

“I’ve got fairy gardens outside in my yard,” Sherman replied, “and I’ve got containers that I keep in my house. But I’ve never made anything for them — I’ve just bought stuff, so this will be fun.”

The sky’s the limit for this grounded venture.

“It’s really all in your imagination,” Kardos said.

IF YOU GO:

— What: Backyard Abundance Plant Sale & Fundraiser

— Where: Robert A. Lee Recreation Center, 220 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City

— When: 9 to 11:30 a.m. April 29

— Details: Backyardabundance.org

Class

— What: Create a Fairy or Gnome Garden

— When: 10 to 11:30 a.m. May 20

— Where: Edible Classroom, Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center, 220 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City

— Cost: $15 resident, $20 non-resident; includes materials

— Details: Build and take home a fairy garden, house and fairy or gnome; help plant the classroom’s fairy garden

— Registration: Open to all ages, but children 10 and under must be accompanied by an adult; register at Backyardabundance.org

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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