Conservation Corner: Fairy Gardens

By Lynn Lewis - lynn@landings.org
Communications Manager

Fairy gardens may sound magical and evoke images of Tinkerbell and pixie dust. But did you know that these miniature gardens can be dangerous to our marsh areas and the animals that live on the island? Often placed at the base of trees and embellished with different beauty-items, these gardens have grown in increasing popularity over the last few years. However, many people fail to look past their whimsy to the effect they can have on the environment.

Many everyday items used in the structures placed in fairy gardens such as paints, lead, and copper are toxic to our feathered and furry neighbors. Birds can pick away at the structures, toys, and other items in a fairy garden and become sick over time. Deer and other wildlife also can become ill if they ingest foreign objects such as those that add magic to a fairy garden. When designing a fairy garden, always be sure to consider the birds and wildlife that may come into contact with these areas and, as often as possible, use natural items such as pinecones and shells to highlight the beauty of the plants in your garden. Additionally, it is best to place the garden on your property so you can keep a close eye on it to ensure none of your embellishments become unintentional debris.

Another aspect to consider when planting a fairy garden is preserving the integrity of the marine environment. Wind, rain, and tides can wash items in a fairy garden (e.g., plastics, foam, wood, etc.) into the ocean, contributing to marine debris. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines marine debris as “any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes.”

According to NOAA, some potentially negative impacts from these items getting into the marsh and ocean may include ingestion by animals, entanglement, and the release of toxins from the plastic. Larger plastic items over time will break down into smaller and smaller pieces and become microplastics. Similar to macro marine debris, microplastics also are a detriment to animals and the environment. To read more about marine debris, click here.

Most people will agree that fairy gardens are both creative and beautiful, and with a few considerations and responsible measures by the creator, they also can be environmentally sustainable. Now that, friends, is a magical accomplishment indeed!