Growing, Evolving & Updating: Miniature Gardens vs. Fairy Gardens – What is the Difference?

Fairy door and windows.

Not a miniature garden but very cute! From the “Our Favorite Miniature Gardens” – and old album from HGTV.com

Miniature Gardens vs. Fairy Gardens – What is the Difference?

This is an update to a blog that I published on the difference between miniature gardening and fairy gardening about 6 1/2 years ago. 

I opened up a little can of worms the other day on our Facebook page.

Thankfully, I’m a little hardcore when it comes to gardening and I like worms.

Fairy Gardening with Two Green Thumbs.comI had created a post for our Facebook page that linked to a series of fairy gardens on HGTV.com (link has been changed) and suggested that they should start hanging out with us “real miniature gardeners.”

I must admit, that was a bit hasty in retrospect, but I didn’t mean to offend anyone so here’s an explanation of where that comment came from.

The first picture in the album was the one shown above, with a couple of windows and a door nailed to a tree with a fairy in front of it. Inside the album, however, there were a couple of pictures that were very pretty little fairy gardens, and pictures of a fairy house and a gnome house – but they were all fairy gardens, not miniature gardens. HGTV had called them miniature gardens – thus the comment “that they should start hanging out with us ‘real miniature gardeners.'”

A very pretty little Fairy Garden

From the HGTV.com album. Fairy gardens are a type of miniature garden and if there is a fairy in it, then the word ‘fairy’ belongs in the name.

“Why?” asked Facebook follower Patti Sherwood, the founder and leader of the Miniature and Fairy Garden forum on Garden Share.com (This forum appears to be dead now.) “… because I truly believe that every attempt at creating a garden of any kind should be applauded and not criticized.”

That is STILL a great question, Patti.

But I felt like Martha Stewart. She is always made fun of because of her quest for excellence and perfection. But, you know what? She raised our game. Martha made us want for a better home and a better life through the domestic arts. Heck, we didn’t even call it “domestic arts” until she did! It was called housework and cooking. How unglamorous… until Martha  came along and redefined it for us.

Yes, I think every attempt at gardening should be applauded, especially because plants help the air, reduce our stress, help the environment, and add comfort visually and emotionally.

But, promoting any type of gardening is not what I do. My focus is living miniature gardening.Janit's Mini Garden Etsy Store

“Lettuce define our terms.”
              – Kermit the Frog

 

A “Little” History

The term ‘miniature garden’ used to be an all-encompassing phrase for any small sized garden, living or artificial. It could be as big as a
small backyard or as small as a thimble-sized terrarium. Dish gardens, bonsai, penjing, rock gardening, railroad gardening, gnome gardening, tray gardening, windowsill gardening, teacup gardening, terrariums, vivariums and Wardian cases (I’ve probably missed some.) were all called miniature gardening before the miniature garden hobby took off. Now, the terms have officially changed.

So here is the definition of miniature gardening.

And yes, it is my own definition, I can not think of who else would have the authority and perspective to define it so I’ll claim it. You’ll now find this definition on many websites.

Living Miniature Gardens

Living Miniature Gardens include plants, patio/paths and an accessory all in scale with one another.

Definition: A miniature garden is the perfect blend of tiny trees, plants, hardscaping and garden accessories that are in scale with one another to create a lasting, living garden scene or vignette. Miniature gardens are gardens in miniature.

That’s it, right there.

And as a leader and a professional (like HGTV.com) I feel it is part of my job to bring out the best miniature gardener in everybody.

So, when one is adding a fairy figure to a bunch of plants and calling it a miniature garden, that isn’t right, it is a fairy garden.

A window and door hammered onto a tree is not a miniature garden. It could lead to one – but I would be hard-pressed to even call it a garden. Where are the plants?

A sign propped up in the corner with a fairy a pebble path is a fairy garden, not a “miniature garden” even though it is cute as a button.

And the “Our Favorite Miniature Gardens” on the HGTV.com site was an album of fairy gardens.

The Big Boys Aren’t Getting it Right

Best selling Gardening in Miniature book

We wrote the book on it.

It’s interesting to note that these types of big “garden” websites seem to not really care about being precise nor do they seem to care about teaching the right things to their viewers/readers.

I found another great example of this from the Better Homes and Gardens website recently, where they called a planted jello-mould a ‘terrarium’ and proceeded to plant up a dish garden incorrectly, (the charcoal layer is a filter and goes on top of the gravel,) called it a bundt pan, and used plants that have completely different watering and light needs – THEN they put a pebble path and a wee bench in it, technically making it a miniature garden. It is SO not a terrarium, it isn’t even funnySee it here.

I was a bit floored after viewing so I posted it in one of my independent garden center forums and asked if this type of information should be corrected by us, the professional gardeners in the industry. I had several store owners chime-in and basically said, “So what? It’s cute and it will sell fast. They’ll have to come back and buy more plants!” 

Oh. Dear. I was under the impression that customers are people that trust independent shop owners to sell them the right solutions that will work – not die. If a customer just wants to buy plants from an untrustworthy source that will die, that’s what big-box stores are for. :o)

So it seems that some store owners just want sell you anything and these big websites just want the traffic for their advertising revenue. BUT why they mis-inform their customers/readers leaves me very perplexed when it is just as easy to create and teach proper content?

Gee, I guess I’ve been doing it all wrong all these years, but at least I can sleep at night. Please enjoy our ad-free website and online store where we care about our customers, the information and the products we sell ~> ONLY at TwoGreenThumbs.com apparently!

What do you think? Am I being too picky about nomenclature? Leave a comment below about my current definition of what we do here at Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center and help us define what we do so we can continue to share, enjoy and create living miniature gardens.

Sophisticated Fairy Gardening, by Janit Calvo

Our new eBook! For Advanced Fairy Gardeners only. It’s an addendum to our Gardening in Miniature book. Click the picture for more.

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38 Comments »

  1. KC said

    This is one of the situations where one will not find a defining definition for miniature garden.

    Is a tiny sized plant that does not grow to a large size actually a miniature? No, not really since it was not reduced in size from a larger item.

    Don’t worry about the definitions just be sure to use the keywords that people might think of using such as fairie and fairy so those looking to create a miniature garden will find you.

    Like

    • JanitC said

      Thanks, Karin, but that is what this blog post is about – defining what we do! I’m not worried about keywords and people finding me, those who want to know more will, if they haven’t already. I’m the only one writing and blogging about this hobby on a consistent basis and have for years as you know. It’s fun being a leader in this trend… ;o)

      And here’s one of my blogs on defining what miniature plants are:
      https://minigardener.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/miniature-dwarf-plants-the-true-meaning/

      Liked by 1 person

      • katiewritesagain said

        YES! Define what each type of garden is. I, for one, want to know what I’m doing. I live in the mountains, in the woods, under a lot of trees. That means shade, and diffused sunlight and humidity. A friend gave me a “garden” that had mixed needs plants in it. I learned, the hard way, not to buy from that retailer anymore. No, I didn’t think it was “cute” and I certainly didn’t go back for more. I went online and searched for the plants…and that’s not as easy as it sounds because I didn’t know what they were so how could I look them up?? After hours of frustrating searches of “images of…” I took the pot to a local nursery. They were very helpful but I felt obligated to buy something, after all their time is as valuable as anyone’s. So, please, give us as much accurate information as possible, including proper names and definitions of the type of gardens we hope to create. Please hold firm to your sense of ethics and clarity in dealing with your readers. I’m new to this blog and now I plan to remain a loyal reader and customer.

        Like

      • Thanks, Katie! I hate it when I buy something and it doesn’t last – and I blame the retailer for selling me that piece of crap too. Retailers are filters for their customers. Gradually the customer will gravitate the people they can trust.

        A perfect example is, we no longer shop at Fred Meyers or Kmart because of the lack of quality items. We don’t buy Martha Stewart’s products either – from her sheets to bath towels to kitchen appliances – they fades quickly, pills or tears too easily, or it falls apart after a couple of uses. If more people held the retailers and companies accountable for selling this kind of crap, our landfills would be less and we could save a ton of time and money.

        Like

    • Ed Maze said

      Janit your definition of miniature gardening is right on the mark. I would like to use that in my miniature gardens sales area, if that is ok with you, with your name on it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Ed, Definitely! Thank you for helping to spread the joy of miniature gardening! Have you seen our book yet? Gardening in Miniature by Timber Press? it’s a bestseller for the publisher and on Amazon. You can get it wholesale from the publisher here: sales@timberpress. I know your customers would love it. :o)

        Like

      • Ed Maze said

        Yes I just received a copy for Fathers Days. It is a great book for this hobby. I do plan on carrying it. Thank you for the information.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mairead said

    After reading your very informative post, I know now what I am, I am a miniature plants person. Well, since I am definitely not miniature, I should say, I am a ‘miniature plants’ person. I keep my plants in large tubs, troughs and fish boxes, which you may or may not be acquainted with – they are large plastic boxes for transporting fish, which I found on the local beach or my mother-in-law’s in the west of Ireland, usually after stormy weather. I give them the best of soil that I can manage to suit their needs, and a layer of stone or scree, and I let them get on with it. Landscaping of these mini gardens is not for me, so I now accept that I am not a mini-gardener. Whatever I am, the plants seem happy.

    Like

  3. Dorothy said

    I have nine fairy gardens in containers in WISCONSIN. I use annuals for the foliage. Finding and keeping miniature plants over the winter is expensive and difficult. I made the faries out of clay and have themes in each garden. The grand-kids, the King and Queen, fairy babies, story time, Happy Birthday, Unicorns, tea party, etc. They are very cute and have been fun to work with but I think fairy gardens are different from miniature gardens.

    Like

    • JanitC said

      I can help you with finding miniature plants that will work in your area, Dorothy! I have many customers in WI. Email me your zip code and I’ll do some digging for you ~ info@twogreenthumbs.com. I may be able to find a local nursery for you too.

      And I’m glad you can appreciate the difference between the two. Both kinds, miniature and fairy gardens, are equally enchanting and inspiring! ;o)

      Like

  4. Stevie said

    This is very clear and I completely “get” your point here. I am fascinated by what you create in your miniature gardens.

    Like

  5. Linda said

    Hi I’m Linda, and I have retail greenhouses in Spooner Wi.(Yellow River Gardens) and I totally agree with Dorothy. There are very few truely dwarf, perennial plants that over-winter in Wi. Any plants that winter in containers or even raised gardens are a challenge up here!
    We’ve experimented with several plants…… the hardiest are in the sedums and a few in the evergreens. There are shrubs that can be used, but finding them available for sale in a small specimen is also few and far between…..we’re working on that. Also, your examples of gardens are fun and inspiring….Thanks

    Like

  6. Martha said

    Hi Janit, I love your definition of a miniature garden! In fact, do you mind if I use it when people ask me what a mini garden is? I will, of course, give you full credit. :). However, although I rarely use fairy figures in my mini gardens, I always invite the fairies to come in and enjoy them. And as you might remember, I was taken up on that once and now again most recently, I believe. 🙂

    Like

  7. tvland said

    I am so glad to see you put together a definition! I am new to the miniature gardening world though I have dabbled in dollhouses and trains in the past. I get aggravated clicking on links to “miniature” gardens and seeing it full of fairies with no plants in sight! I feel your frustration! I have nothing against fairies and I have a house full of gnomes but I want to recreate a true to life scene in a miniature. I was thinking of myself as getting into bonsai but now realize bonsai is miniature gardening. 🙂 Greatly enjoy your website and your facebook posts.

    Like

  8. […] the edge of the pot, or have enough room for a small house or building, a particular favorite of fairy gardeners. We talk about the different kinds of pots that can be used miniature gardening in our new book […]

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  9. […] Note the new category for Best Fairy Garden. There is some overlap between the two hobbies but they are different. Simply put: Miniature gardening is based on realism. Fairy gardening is based on fairies. Here’s a blog with more about the difference between the two types of gardening small. […]

    Like

  10. Rhonda Mueller said

    So if a fairy is added to a miniature garden, what is it?

    Like

    • Hi Rhonda, If you add any type of figure to a miniature scene, the story switches to that figure as the main character. So, to answer your question, if you add a fairy to a miniature garden it becomes a fairy garden – or the fairy’s garden. We tend to enjoy our scenes without figures, so the focus goes to the garden and the story is left up to the viewer’s imagination. We find there is more enchantment this way, because the story is undefined and open-ended it leaves a lot of room for everybody to enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Reblogged this on The Edgewater Shop and commented:
    I found this to be a great explanation for the difference between Fairy Gardening vs Miniature Gardening. I have a love and respect for both!

    Like

  12. […] And, lastly, the number of tiny businesses online that specialize in fairy gardening, mistaking it for miniature gardening, are everywhere on the […]

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  13. Sonia said

    Thank you. I came searching for answers. My brother (soon to retire) has a beautiful mini bonsai garden. At HD, I found the cutest tiny hedgehog & lovingly mailed it to him for his mini-garden. Well, the hedgehog was kindly denied a “life” in the garden because the packaging was labeled “fairy garden.” My brother only said his garden is not a “fairy garden,”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol! I think I like your brother. It’s the realism that is enchanting. The fairy stuff is easy to make because it doesn’t have to be realistic nor in scale. That’s why the gift industry has paraded that endless stream of fairy stuff out, flogging it as “miniature garden accessories.” But I t just doesn’t work. Check out our main site: TwoGreenThumbs.com, I think you’ll find some items he’ll like. 😃

      Like

      • Rob O said

        Hi Janit,
        I agree that there is a difference between miniature and fairy gardening. I educate folks on the differences but encourage them to go with what makes them happy and inspires them. Some folks like mixing the two and some don’t.

        I personally like mixing live miniature plants with artificial plants in a fairy garden. Providing education and information is a good thing and builds ones credibility but I do not insist on all or nothing. I advocate your book and for my customers to do their own research and try 1-3 projects a year. I let them know we are here to help where we can. In the end that brings more business to a retail shop and solidifies ones reputation. I also hold workshops and give talks in the community to build awareness, increase email lists, market ourselves, and meet new friends!

        Like

      • It’s the difference between empowering people or just selling them something. :o)

        Like

  14. Heidi A said

    Keep spreading the word Janit! I also dislike seeing all the terrible information and advice I keep running across on the internet. That “Terrarium” video from Better Homes and Gardens was cringe-worthy! (“It is SO not a terrarium, it isn’t even funny.” HA HA!)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Carla said

    Hi Janit – Don’t back down 🙂 The power of language is so subtle that it is often discounted. Marie Antoinette just might have kept her head and changed the course of history if she hadn’t uttered the infamous “Let them eat cake!” Bread, cake, what’s the difference? Terrarium, dish garden, what’s the difference?

    Like

    • Knitting, crochet, what’s the difference? I think the power of language is often overlooked and leads to misunderstandings too often in this day and time. If we took the time to think about what we are “putting out there,” there would be a lot less fake news and useless websites on the Internet.

      The difference is important to me as a garden professional with a loyal following of miniature gardeners who trust me for providing them the right information – it really matters to me, actually.

      I won’t sell you a pair of knitting needles and tell you that you can crochet with them.

      For my customer, whatever my customer wants to do with the idea afterward is fine with me – as long as they are aware of what they are getting into by choosing the wrong plants, or calling something by it’s wrong name. I prefer to empower people instead.

      We need to start to care about what we do, imho. Personally, I never stopped and often get myself into these discussions because of that. Lol!

      (Oh, and it’s a myth – Historians have proved Marie Antoinette never said those words or anything similar to them. :o)

      Like

  16. Lynn Rollo said

    Four words: I love your “passion for miniature gardening”:-)

    Like

  17. Sue Rhoads said

    Janet, I’m with you. I love gardening in any form and I have to admit that I sort of thought fairy gardening/miniature gardening were interchangeable. Thanks for the input. As far as people getting offended , I am so over it. Thanks for all your work in this area. And yes anyone making an attempt should be applauded. I am a master gardener now, but I didn’t start out here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue! For your kinds words and support. I realize I’m not for everyone – as the saying goes, “I’m an artist, not a politician.” And it makes me much more appreciative of the ones that do enjoy my work. Thanks again! ❤ :o)

      Like

  18. […] Well, a fairy garden made it into one of the big display gardens at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show this year – that’s something at least. There were a couple of booths where you could buy some fairy-wares, but there were were no miniatures for miniature gardening. Really? (What’s the difference? See here.) […]

    Like

  19. Judy Iversen said

    Idea for you: Host a Miniature Garden Show. (Don’t faint!) Women used to make quilts to put on beds. Fast forward and today there are guilds and quilt shows, locally, regionally, nationally and even international. Look at your customer base. Wouldn’t many in your area enjoy displaying their gardens? YES! Enjoy a live class or two? YES! Wouldn’t the general public enjoy such a garden show? YES!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Judy! I’m polling the very question in the next blog. This is excellent feedback. ❤️

      Like

  20. Old Boot said

    Dear Janit, I need to wade in here as I have been doing a fair amount of research on miniature gardening for fun and profit.
    Here’s what I’ve learned. A contained “garden” is primarily a newly created eco-system. So if the components are mismanaged it will show it.
    Respect the plants. If this habitat is well balanced, the growth rate and seasonal appearance will be easily controlled.
    Additional items that give the plant groupings a different and interesting frame of reference. i.e. “miniatures” …. what constitutes an artful arrangement. Well this is where it diverges for me.
    I’m firmly in your camp when it comes to understanding scale and design.
    It’s the’ tiny’ realism that makes it magical, and I’m referring to the visual tricking the mind rather than suggesting “the land of the fairies”. Having said that, I am finally ready to admit to the muggle world I am a Harry Potter addict.
    If I could get mandrake roots and a cutting of a salix ‘ whoopmus’, they’d be in my yard.
    I’m planning on doing a whole lot of miniature gardening with the J K Rowling inspirations featured, but the details will be in scale and the likelihood of finding things for it won’t be in a big chain store, I’ll be using your website and shared knowledge to come up with my creations.
    I really appreciate your extensive information sharing and your honesty with misinformation online.
    thanks Janit

    Liked by 1 person

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