Fairy Gardens & Writing: how they relate

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Planting fairy gardens is one of my favorite things to do every spring. I do this for one of my jobs and on occasion, I teach how-to’s.

I’ve planted countless container pots over the seventeen years I’ve been doing this, but planting fairy gardens feels completely different and is always exciting to me.

Here’s why:

I escape into the mini world I am planting. Just like I escape into the worlds I create while writing.

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The writing and planting connection didn’t come to me until recently, while teaching a customer how to plant a desert landscape fairy garden.

“That’s the fairies’ winter home,” I said to her. “They go there when the frost covers their forests.”

The woman looked up at me with big eyes. “Ohmygosh. Yes! I didn’t think of that, but yes!”

I twirled over to another customer. “Oooo,” I said. “I like how those stepping stones trail off beneath that maiden hair fern. Where is it leading to?”

The girl looked up at me and showed her toothy grin. “A waterfall.”

And that’s when years and years of why I love planting mini landscapes, clicked.

It all stems from creating a believable SETTING!

Now, there are rules to planting fairy gardens, just like there are rules to writing.

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1- Scale: Nothing bugs me more than having a huge fairy, or dog, or bird bath right beside an iddy-biddy fairy house the same size. You need to have stepping stones in relation to the fairy house or have people bigger than animals. So, look for trinkets and decor that are to scale.

Scale in writing: This is called world-building. What are the rules, the magic system, the laws? Keep it consistent, and tight, and to scale. Don’t make the reader confused with things that don’t make sense.

 

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2- Plants: To set your fairy garden up for success, the plants all need to be able to survive in one pot together. Don’t plant outdoor with indoor. Or succulents and cacti with ferns. Or sun plants with shade plants. I know this seems like common knowledge, but this is the #1 issue I’ve seen. People buy plants just because they are pretty and then wonder why the beautiful flowers aren’t blooming inside in a dark room.

Plants with writing: I could go on, and on, and on about setting. In fact I have, many times on this blog. Here’s an award winning article I wrote about setting, if interested. I am extremely picky of the plants I see in novels. If the author names a real plant, in my mind, it better be able to grow in that realistic setting. If it’s fantasy, well, go crazy.

 

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3- Layers and texture: A woman I helped the other day was creating an herb fairy garden. She had rosemary, lavender, and curry all grouped together. She asked why it wasn’t working. I moved a few things around and added parsley, basil, and thyme between them. “It’s because all those plants have the same, slender leaves. See how they stand out now that they are next to other, cohesive plants with different texture?” I said. Think how a real forest grows with tall trees, shrubs, then ground cover. Add layers.

Layers and texture in writing: Resonance. Hints. Metaphor. What are you trying to say to the reader? What is the underlying theme? That’s the layers. – Voice. Substance. Emotion. How do you want it to make the reader feel? That’s your texture.

 

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Now, the fun part about fairy gardens is the play time. It’s the escapism. I made this one of The Shire. The whole time I was planting it, I thought about how much I love Tolkien and the vibrant way he creates setting. A customer came in and bought it right as I put it on the table to sell. She was a huge Tolkien fan like me. We were kindred spirits right away and it was because of the playful, whimsical thing that I’d created. It was cool.

As authors, writing should be fun. Creating things are fun. You have the power to create a world that others can escape into. I watch kids, and adults, play with the gardens I create, just like people can read the books I create.

And giving people that escapism to another world, is pretty cool.

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Here are some of my Instagram photos. You’re welcome to follow me for other planting, art, or writing tips.

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Thanks for stopping by!

  • Tara

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Pale Ghosts – The Evolution of Ideas

Every night, a pale owl perches, standing guard outside my window. It is magnificent and white. I took a walk with my sons, counting long poop stains on my neighbors roofs (great quest for young boys!) We counted 11 homes.

So, if you are my close neighbor, chances are you are being watched over while you slumber. I can’t go to sleep until I look for it now. The owl and I are both creatures of the night. Most writers are.

Naturally, I took to research to find out what kind of owl peers through my windows. My conclusion is that it’s a barn owl, sometimes called a ghost owl. I listened to its call online and the snapping noise was identical. I was sad to read that they only live for 1-2 years in the wild.

Read further to see how my every day ideas develop into words on the page:

1- Connection: This ghost owl reminded me of a ghost raven I wanted to write into one of my works in progress. I’ve mentioned many times before how I LOVE research. When I say research, I don’t mean Wikipedia or listening to boring old professors. I’m talking about delving deep into the cavernous origins that make you question your sanity and everything you hold to be true. I think I like doing research as much as I like to write. It’s hard to decide what to use and what to keep.

Here is a side-note about a writing program called Scrivener. If you are a serious writer, you MUST learn how to use this program. While I am writing my novels, I can link research, notes, and thoughts in a little side bar as my book develops. Before Scrivener, in Word, I used to have two separate documents. One being my novel in progress, and one for all the research, quotes, and findings.

Also, whenever I need to delve even more deep, I schedule a lunch date with my older brother. I don’t know anyone who knows more about the bazaar than him. This says a lot because I have gone to so, so many conferences and many of them being about fantasy and the unusual. I don’t know where he finds half his stuff. Here is a link to his blog ARTDUH.COM. So, I suggest you find someone who is half crazy to bounce ideas off of. 🙂

2- Morph connections into my own creation and history: Back to the pale raven from my novel… Here is a brief example of how I take mythology, legend, and folklore and morph it into my own creation of history. Below you will follow my brain trail and see how I filter and process information and then make it my own.

The Norse God Odin had two ravens. Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory).

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Both ravens flew around the earth and reported what they saw to Odin every night. Make connections… Have we seen this else where, when birds report with information? Hmm… How about Noah and the dove, or even Maleficent and her raven. (hello, my article on resonance) I’ve had a curiosity about ravens from my first reading of Edgar Allen Poe decades ago. I love his writing and have his collections on my bed stand.

3- My mind spins further and I research everything I can find about ravens and how smart they are and their origin stories in most every culture and ancient civilization. Then I find a story that sticks and I ask the question “What if?” — Here is where an author steals. Here is where I make it my own by asking questions. — What If… all the ebony feathers of my character’s pet raven were plucked out, save but one? What If… that scrawny bird and my main character were banished? Upon near death, what if a medicine man, much like my findings in Indian folklore, were to resurrect the bird and it became a pale ghost raven? And that single black lingering feather, was the only tie it had to mortality and loyalty to my character.

4- So then I think of my setting and characters, and think “how can I use this in my book?” How can I morph my findings and ideas into my novel and make it believable? Well, give it life. Give it history. Give it backstory. Ground them into your setting. See things through their eyes. Give them an action that shows their personality. Do I want to make my raven playful by ruffling up my characters hair with its beak? Or do I want to make it sinister by plucking out someone’s eye? Your characters will speak to you, even if it is an animal or bird. Listen to them. Don’t fight who they are.

5- Finally, write. When all the pieces have fit together and I have an idea of where I want the story to go, I do a loose outline. This is when I open my other document or sidebar in Scrivener and jot down all my ideas because they come as fast as a freight train. The scenes and characters open up and it is so fun to see how the story and your brain trail evolves before your eyes.

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*** To think… all of this started because of a white owl who spies on me as I sleep. This is what I was talking about in my post Hidden Gems. Ideas are everywhere. Sometimes you just have to open your window and mind to see. I am happy that the ghost owl chose to move in next door to me and bless me with its graceful short-lived presence.

Thanks for stopping by! I love your comments. Have you ever followed your brain trail? Do you have a different method that works for you?

Tara