In our digital age, where virtual reality often seems to trump real experiences, true wonder can be in short supply. One couple in Wyoming, however, has done their part to offer daily chances at wonder, right in their own front yard.
Since 2016, kids (and their parents) walking to and from Elm School have had the chance to stop and marvel at a magical fairy garden at the home of Don Burt, 239 Elm. The garden was originally created by his late wife, Donna, and was near the sidewalk. It was made of repurposed household items, twigs and other natural elements plus a few ready-made fairy garden accessories. Many times, the Burts found a few additions in the garden, provided by the neighborhood’s children.
Don says he and his wife shared a love of old children’s book illustrations and the aesthetic of fairy gardens appealed to both of them in an artistic sense. “The notion of an enchanted world has always been appealing to us,” he says. “We were always interested in Tolkien books and in Brian and Wendy Froud fairy books. So this was something that came naturally.”
When Don retired from an IT career in 2017, he planned to help his wife with the fairy garden. But their plans were changed when Donna was diagnosed with cancer and aggressive treatment made it difficult for her to attend to the fairy garden or do any of the things she loved. She passed away in 2018.
After her passing, the garden became Don’s project, and he took it on wholeheartedly, expanding its scope and investing in new materials. The garden now sits in a prime spot beneath two trees is his front yard. It is more of a fairy village these days, than a mere garden, and it even includes lights on special occasions. There is now a rock pathway leading to the fairy garden and wooden towers guard the entrances.
The towers have candle windows and cast turret roofs that have a unique Oriental style. Don’s five grandchildren have helped decorate the pathway with pebble mosaics. Carved gourds serve as fairy houses and they are adorned with clay-crafted amanita mushrooms and shelf-fungi to give them a woodland look. The gourds also have fanciful windows and doors made from materials like walnut shell slices, moonstones, glass nuggets and poured resin. There is even a separate troll village, marked with a rock wall and tunnel, with its own more sinister-looking tower designs and troll characters.
Children often stop to play in the garden, he says, and they move the tiny fairy figurines and trolls around to suit their imaginations.
He continually develops new ideas for the fairy garden and even travels the country looking at the fairy garden creations of others for inspiration.
“There is a whole group of people out there who are interested in fairy gardening,” he says, mentioning how he has connected with many other fairy garden enthusiasts through Facebook. “I’ve spent some money on this,” he adds regarding his ongoing additions to the garden.
But the garden still gives back more than it takes, he notes.
He never tires of seeing neighborhood children delight in the sight of the garden, their imaginations at work making up fantasies of tiny fairies and trolls in this special world of their own.
“It’s fun to hear kids explain to me how the whole thing works, as if as an adult I don’t quite get it. That is such a joy.”
On Monday, Nov. 1, the fairy garden will be lit, one of several nights each year Don puts colored lights in the gourd fairy houses and towers and string lights around the village to enhance the magic. The other “light-up” nights are around each solstice and equinox. In addition to the fairy garden, Don creates a special carved pumpkin display for Halloween that involves numerous intricately carved pumpkins near the front of his home. It is a popular destination for families on trick-or-treat night.
For more information about the fairy garden and to follow the progress of additions or repairs, go to his Facebook page http://fb.me/fairiesonelm where news, photos and event announcements are posted. He sometimes also hosts informal craft workshops in his studio around back. In addition to fairy gardening, he is also an accomplished stained glass window artist, examples of which adorn his home.
Don welcomes visitors to the garden and children are often seen playing there after school. Because of course, fairy magic is only truly made possible by the imaginations of those who love them.