Grand garden: Family works together to create backyard fairy lair

DUNCANSVILLE – When Bob and Linda Rhodes lived in the Harrisburg area, they became fascinated with tiny gardens that were popular there. They brought the idea with them when they moved to Duncansville nine years ago and put it into action last year when they realized how much their granddaughter, Sarah Urban, loves to garden.

Sarah, now 8, helped her “Poppy” put in a fairy garden in the Rhodes’ backyard for the last two years, complete with tiny toad stools, birds, a birdhouse, a bridge, hedgehogs, and the requisite sprites and miniature plants. Made from ceramic, clay or resin, the roughly 1-inch-tall figurines mostly are staged on a wild cherry tree log that Bob pulled from his other property in the woods.

“It’s a collection of things people have given her and a few things we bought,” Linda said.

“The log was Sarah’s idea, and we worked around it,” said Bob.

“I kind of like how it looks,” added the Frankstown Elementary third-grader.

It sits in the center of a landscape island in the retired Rhodes’ backyard that is anchored – and shaded – by two curly willows they planted eight years ago.

“The plants are designed to thrive in the shade,” Bob said. “We go to greenhouses and see things we like and we get them.”

Several small succulents, creeping vines including an ivy, an asparagus fern and a tiny evergreen tree dot the Lilliputian landscape by design.

“Those are plants specific to these gardens,” Linda said.

They added a rosemary and a double begonia for smell and looks.

Bob, at Sarah’s instruction, also put in a stepping stone path around and through the island setting that includes larger plants, such as ferns in hollowed-out stumps.

A couple of small cairns also decorate the garden, and Sarah knows the history behind the stacking of stones that dates to ancient cultures.

“People made them so they could find their way back home,” said the busy girl who lives a few miles away in Hollidaysburg with her parents. Her other hobbies include swimming, piano, tennis and dance.

Sarah also worked with her grandfather to create a smaller version of the fairy garden: It is in a bowl that she will take to the Hollidaysburg Community Farm Show that begins Sept. 21.

“She likes to garden,” Linda said of Sarah. “We were kind of fascinated with fairy gardens that were really big where we used to live, and thought she would like to do one.”

“Now, they’re catching on here.”

Fairy gardens came on the U.S. scene just before the turn of the 20th century in the form of bonsai dish gardens. And, Bob says the only fairy gardens he has seen in this area are those in dishes.

“I know a lot of people around here who have the small ones in the bowl, but I’ve never seen the full garden,” he said.

Linda said she is lucky to have the fairy lair in her backyard.

“Everybody who sees it is fascinated with it,” she said. “I don’t do the work. I just get to enjoy it, and (Sarah).”

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.