Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Aspen Groves and Fairy Gardens: Summer of 2014

     Well, this year I am truly and thoroughly hooked. Spent a lot of time this spring and early summer, before our two weeks of fog and torrential rain, working on my gardens. In fact, I had my beds in pretty good shape with weeding and planting until this last 1 week of rain. Now the weed seeds that remained seem to have sprouted and grown a foot. I just made a tour of my gardens this morning. It is foggy and kind of dripping. But finally all of my peonies have opened. There are still some iris blooming. My poppies have popped and are now done. And it seems to be a very good year for clematis. Everything looks a little bedraggled after the rains but all will recover, I am sure. Then it will be time to pull up dame's rocket from my beds by the house. If you let them go to seed you have an overwhelming invasion the next year. I will soon have to deadhead the finished iris and also, for sure, the chives. They become invasive also if you allow seed formation.

The last of my irises.

      My first ever foxglove from seed is blooming. It survived the winter under about 4 inches of wood chip mulch. It looks pretty spindly but there is a bloom. Maybe by the end of the summer it will look like the huge potted foxglove that I purchase in full bloom and plant, treating them like annuals. This year I am trying two new foxgloves that are supposed to be perennial in our Zone 4 climate. We will see.

The foxglove that grew from seed and survived winter.

Supposed perennial foxglove as opposed to biennial.
     But mixed with all the planting and weeding, I always ended up in my Fairy gardens. At the street end of our long lot is a small quaking aspen colony. If you don't know what that is, let me explain. Populus tremuloides, the most widely distributed tree species in North America, also called American aspen, quaking aspen, and white poplar among other names, grows in clonal colonies. This means that a single tree is the eventual source of a whole grove of these trees through sprouting of new shoots from the root system of the parent tree. Aspen seeds do not always sprout easily so reproduction within the grove from seeds can be rare. Also aspen trees are either male or female and the whole clonal grove is of the same sex. Therefore within the grove, seeds which require the presence of both sexes of trees are unlikely to form. When we moved to our house on Lake Michigan there was a small grove of very small aspen, the tallest which were about 10 feet tall, growing along the road. Many of the trees were shorter but all were about the same size within a couple feet. In areas of aspen groves, forest fires used to burn the trees above ground but the whole grove would resprout from the preserved roots beneath the heat of the fire. Through various scientific methods, including genetics, which I will not go into, it is possible to date the length of existence of a grove of aspen. Indeed, there is a 43 acre stand of male aspen growing at about 8,000 feet altitude in Utah which is estimated to be the heaviest living organism in the world weighing about 6600 tons. This stand of trees has been named Pando (Latin for "I spread", also called The Trembling Giant) and its root system is estimated to be at least 80,000 years old, therefore being the oldest living organism on the earth. Some scientists even think that this male aspen organism may be as old as a million years.

     Knowing these facts, I think that the lady that had lived in a small 1950s ranch house where we built our house decided to let this area of the lot "go wild." And what grew were the suckers of an older aspen root system that had probably been cleared as part of fields that were once located on the lakeshore. Perhaps there had been a local fire but I could not find any records of that. At any rate, I now have an aspen grove that is the home of my fairy gardens. I do admit that there is some buckthorn in my aspens. But I have been slowly working to get that invasive species gone from there. And at the edge of the main grove of aspens, I do see aspen suckers growing. You will see two of them in the following photos.

     Here are two photos of my aspen grove and of the entrance to my fairy gardens, in the first photo located just to the right of the central two aspen trees.

     Over the years of living at this site on Lake Michigan, I have planted prairie plants adjacent to my aspen grove and have established, neglected and recently again established paths through this wild area that my husband calls "the jungle." I also have a clearing where I have put two "very expensive" plastic Adirondack chairs and footstools. I hang a couple pots of blooming impatiens in the shady clearing. Daffodils blossom at the clearing edge before the trees leaf out. A large cluster of Virginia bluebells has spread beneath a boxelder near the edge of the aspen grove. I love to sit in my Adirondack and enjoy those spring blossoms.

My Adirondacks. Fairy vignettes to right and left of path.

Fairy vignette at base of a boxelder tree covered with wire as deer protection.

      Last year I got hooked with fairy gardening. I posted a few photos here of those first attempts. Well, my addiction has grown. This year I have 6 vignettes where fairies are thriving. If you are a frequenter of garden stores, you may have noticed that apparently my addiction is not uncommon. Most now have a section which is actually maintained throughout the year with miniature plants, ceramic fairy figures, and every miniature garden accessory that one could think of from tiny rakes and shovels, to croquet sets, tiny bird houses, bicycles, and even a charcoal grill. One can really sink a lot of dollars into all these little effects. In my case, I have done that, but I have also crafted many of the little items that are in my gardens. And I have robbed other places in my house for items that resemble a full size garden essential but in miniature. Many people place their miniature fairy gardens in pots, or in bird baths or other containers. Under those cultural habits, they can bring them indoors during our winters and therefore can use little houseplants and succulents as the vegetation. In my case, I have placed these vignettes right on the ground either surrounding a tree trunk, or along my path. For this reason, some of my plants are perennials and I will leave them in the ground this fall. Others are not hardy in this reason and I will have to bring them back indoors. Most of them are still in the pots which are sunk in the ground. So far with all this rain, keeping them watered has not been a problem. But ask me about that in about mid August.

     Below is a photo of my welcoming fairy vignette as the visitor enters my path into my aspen grove.

     The miniature house in the center has two solar powered LED lights inside so that at night the green tinted windows in front light up. That should certainly indicate to other fairy visitors that this is a nice fairy landing place. To the right of the back corner of the house is one of those aspen suckers which is about a foot tall now. If I continue this vignette in this site for too many years, we will have a large aspen trunk as a background. Underneath the aspen sucker is a coleus plant. The small leaved plant at the front right corner of the house is lemon thyme. It has nice small leaves of the proper scale for this scene. To the left front corner of the house is a wood pile and then a miniature sedum that looks like spruce in this scale. A stone path leads to the front door. Scottish moss grows across the front of the fairy property. To the far right is a tall (for the scale) light green tree which is a lemon cyprus standard. This "tree" is not hardy and I will have to bring it in this winter. So I can simply pack up the house and the fairy figure and the lemon cyprus and bring them in for the winter.

The "tree" to the right is a lemon cypress, not hardy.

  One might think that fairies are gentle and serene little folks, right? Our childhood stories would lead us to believe that. But I found the 'marble' sign pictured below at a garden show in Indianapolis while visiting my son's family and it would seem to indicate otherwise. It serves as a blunt warning to all who enter my pathway into the fairy world.

     The next vignette is the Hobbit Hole. I made this façade out of balsom wood and polymer clay so that it looks like a stone front, with a wooden door. It is partially buried with a mound of dirt behind it covered by natural moss. There are ferns growing naturally here and I have also planted Irish moss and a small sedum. The façade is propped up for stability now because of all the rains we have been getting. To the right of the entrance ramp are two deer figures and two rows of miniature corn.

     At the east end of my aspen grove is a large boxelder tree. The complex trunk of this tree with all of its suckers both young and old has provided space for two fairy doors placed up against the trunk. On the ground in front of these two doors which I made of craft popsicle sticks with polymer clay hardware, are two large layouts with fairy figures, pebble paving, "grass", and garden plots. there is even a bicycle that one of the fairies uses, and a croquet set for the fairies' leisure time.


     Deer, rabbits and voles are constant threats to my little creations. Here is a photo of the two vignettes around the boxelder tree covered with protectors made of chicken wire.

     There is even a "chicken house" which I made with artificial leaves and a piece of tree trunk along with chickens from my own Marx farm playset", part of my toy collection.

     Fairies like orbs. Here is one made of willow twigs. It contains a sleeping fairy youngster.

 The next vignette is the "castle" home of the queen of the fairies. This "castle" consists of an old butterfly house with a copper roof. The back has rotted out but the front served as a mounting board for a door and a window made of blue polymer clay with clay hardware. It appears that the fairy queen is having someone over for lunch because the table out front is set with dishes. There is a grassy area with a bench, birdbath and hummingbird feeder to the right of the castle, and a pond with a pier and a fairy sitting next to the pond to the left of the castle. And further left, is a glass conservatory (really a small glass bucket turned upside down.)


     The next vignette is set against the trunk of a large cottonwood tree near the edge of the aspen grove. For this scene, I used some balsom wood to make a door shape and then used a woodburning tool to outline the boards and also to carve some fairy "runes" over the top and along the side of the door. There is a small stream that runs along the front of the scene, made of blue flattened glass marbles, and a bridge made of pieces of bark to cross the stream. Another outdoor dining table is set for one person. A fairy girl kneels doing some gardening along the stream. The miniature arbor vitae standard on the right will be hardy, but will grow into a large plant. I will have to trim it periodically to keep it very small like this. Other plants are Irish moss, miniature house plants, a miniature "rubber tree" and to the left hardy epimedium. Naturally occurring Virginia creeper climbs up the cottonwood trunk to provide the greenery over the door. In the left foreground is a lemon cypress tree. There was also one in the Queen Fairy castle vignette. This is not a hardy miniature tree and I will have to bring both of these inside for the winter, as well as the reddish plants on each side of the bridge. They are a variety of Oxalis and are not hardy.


   The final vignette is located deeper inside the aspen grove. I call it the "Wild Wild West" of fairyland. It consists of three cold ceramic buildings which I painted and shellaced. There is also a plastic horse and cart with a gun battle going on. This area is not complete yet. I purposely put it down a path and in the distance, because the scale is much smaller than the rest of my vignettes. Hence it is meant to be viewed from afar.

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