Peer inside whimsical homes fit for fairies at Zilker Botanical Garden

A colorful birdhouse can make a lovely home for fairies. A mirror reflects like a pond. Flat stones stacked up can provide a perfect place for a tiny imaginary being to sit at a table. A big shell beckons “Welcome” at its wide opening. And cleverness and creativity help to decorate all along the way at the Woodland Faerie Trail at Zilker Botanical Garden.

About 40 groups or individuals created little fairy homes and gardens using small items arranged artfully among natural materials in the sixth annual Woodland Faerie Trail. The trail at Zilker Botanical Garden opened last month and runs through Aug. 10.

“Some of these are so detailed. You can come back and see new things,” says Christopher Sanchez, culture and arts education specialist with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

For instance, the Austin Faerie Condo Construction Company shows shiny-painted toy soldiers with metallic wings in action.

Elsewhere along the trail, peacock feathers make a thatchedlike roof. Bottle caps line a walkway. A painted wasp nest sets atop a structure. Toy cars are parked in a tiny parking lot.

One mini sign greets visitors with “Welcome Fairies, Trolls, Nymphs, Elves, Pixies, Gnomes, Humans. …”

The first several years, the fairy exhibit ran for four to six weeks around spring break time, but the garden has since shifted and expanded to more weeks in late spring and summertime, Sanchez said. “It’s grown,” he says. “It’s evolved.”

The tiny attraction is popular with visitors of all ages who are “always looking for it,” he says. Sometimes children will arrive wearing fairy wings to walk the trail.

“It’s delightful because it acknowledges there’s whimsy in this world. … People just flock to it,” says Cynthia Klemmer, who is an environmental conservation program manager at the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. “Art and whimsy are a good gateway to get kids and adults alike to observe nature more closely.”

The creators of each area used ingenuity to turn ordinary household items, such as buttons and Popsicle sticks, into clever details. Slices of tree wood make stairs around a fairy burrow. Sand can become a miniature beach, with little drink umbrellas providing sun shade.

“Upcycling is encouraged,” Sanchez says; for example, a box can be completely covered in ivy.

The displays have themed titles, such as “Rainbow Magic” and “Lily Land.”

Each display along the trail is 4 feet by 4 feet, but “we want them to be able to grow and expand,” he says. “We don’t limit them.”

Participants also are encouraged to “integrate vertically,” using items such as hanging bridges and hanging baskets, he says.

Some who created a fairy home and garden have prepared year-round, and almost half of them have participated previously, Sanchez says. Two groups are making more than one display; they have done it previously, and they have plenty of materials and experience, he says.

“It’s a good way to learn about design, scale and proportion,” Klemmer says.

Guidelines suggest the participants use “a variety of natural materials such as sticks, twigs, seed pods and acorn caps for crafting faerie furniture such as benches, swinging chairs, tables, tea sets, chandeliers, ladders and fencing. Be aware that much of the construction using nuts and berries gets carried away by animals.”

Also, it says, “To be environmentally friendly, we ask that you not use berries or seeds of invasive species. …”

The guidelines also make suggestions for base and core materials, adhesives and installation. Also, the creators are asked to maintain their installation throughout the length of the exhibit.

As well, visitors soon will be able to vote, and people’s choice awards will be given for categories such as best use of color, Sanchez says.

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