Moss, Ferns, and a Fairy House

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This certainly has been a wonderful spring for working with mosses and ferns!   Abundant rain, muted light, humidity and cool days provide the perfect conditions for our ferns to grow and mosses to thrive.  Sometimes it feels like Oregon’s climate followed me home to Virginia!


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The various ‘moss gardens’ I started this spring continue to grow, but not as rapidly as the wild mosses taking over in more areas of the garden than ever before!   We continue to find new little ferns popping up in unexpected places even as all those we’ve planted take off in our moist, cool May.

This hypertufa trough held succulents in full sun, until a couple of weeks ago, when I re-purposed it for our newest moss garden.

We refreshed the trough with fresh potting soil, over a layer of gravel for drainage, planted out some tiny fern starts found at The Great Big Greenhouse, and moved the container to shade.


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An extensive collection of tiny 1″ plants for terrariums and Bonsai always excite me at this favorite Richmond area greenhouse, and I end up ‘collecting’ a few more with each visit.  They are fun to use indoors all winter and grow quickly to standard sizes.   We had a few brake ferns, and what are likely bird’s nest ferns, which needed more room to grow for summer.  The trough seemed the perfect container for them.


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There are also a few starts of Leptinella pusilla, Purple Brass Buttons, which look like tiny purplish ferns.  If you’ve seen a display of ‘Steppables’ at your local nursery, you have likely seen this plant for sale.  I first used it when a friend and I constructed fairy gardens in 2014.

It is a tough but beautiful ground cover for shade which spreads with horizontal stems.  I took the clump out of its nursery pot, pulled a few rooted stems loose from the mass, and tucked them in among the moss of this newest garden.  The rest of the clump went into a shallow pot of its own ready to divide again and use elsewhere…..


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And of course the soil is carpeted with several varieties of lush, beautiful moss lifted from the yard.  Although it takes a few weeks to establish, it will soon begin growing again here in the shade of our grape vines.

But what really inspired me to construct this newest little trough garden was a wonderful ‘fairy house’ made by local potter Betsy Minney.  We were thrilled to find her at a local artist’s show on Mother’s Day, with several new items added to her offerings.  Betsy’s work is always uniquely textured, whimsical, and beautifully glazed.


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We wanted to enjoy Betsy’s little fairy house in a properly ‘wild’ setting, and that meant outside amidst mosses and ferns. Knowing how our birds love to peck at moss, we now wire it in place while it establishes.  Since the fairy house now lives outside on our porch, we also want to protect it from getting knocked over by a curious bird or squirrel!  It is supported here on broken chopsticks and held in place, like the clumps of moss, with bent floral wire.


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These ferns aren’t hardy in our winters, so the entire garden, and especially the fairy house, will come inside in late autumn.  But we’ll have a good six months of enjoyment of this woodland garden by our kitchen door before the weather shifts.

You could make a similar garden using hardy ferns, especially some of the small deciduous cultivars of Athyrium niponicum and native harts tongue ferns, or Asplenium scolopendrium.


One of our newer Ary 'Joy Ride.'

One of our newer Athyrium niponicums in another part of our garden.


I’ve not cut flowers for a vase today.  Most of our roses and Iris have suffered from heavy rains these last few days.  But I will share this little potted garden with you, and still link to Cathy’s In A Vase on Monday post at her Rambling In The Garden.

I hope you will visit to enjoy her beautiful vase of white flowers, and follow the links she posts to other gardeners around the world, to see what is blooming in their gardens today.  There is always so much beauty to enjoy from these dedicated florists and gardeners!

Woodland Gnome 2016


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A Fairy Moss Garden

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A gardening friend and I have been collaborating on fairy gardens for a while now.  She makes the miniatures, and I plant the container.


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She found this container some time ago, and has been wanting to get it planted.  But we are all busy, and time gets away from us with other projects. 


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This container was hand sculpted by someone, but isn’t signed.  A lovely piece, it is perfect for a small garden.


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She was kind enough to let me borrow it and plant it up for her.  She understands my need to get my hands into the dirt on a regular basis, you see.

What you see here is a “first draft” on the planting. 


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We’ll get together later this week and likely move things around a little.  She wants a path, and may decide to forgo or change the little creek, to allow space for more plants.

I wanted to create a little woodland scene, letting ferns stand in for trees.  This project allows me to recycle some of the moss and lichens I’ve brought in for other projects.

I’ve filled the bottom of the dish with a mixture of vermiculite, peat, and sphagnum moss.


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This allowed me to mold the banks of the creek to give a little topography to the scene.  The creek itself is formed from aluminum foil coated in sand, then topped with fine gravel and small stones.  It will hold water if she wants real water in her fairy garden.


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The garden is planted with divisions of lady fern, strawberry begonia offsets, divisions of a Begonia Rex, and moss.


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I will likely add some tiny Sedum cuttings and perhaps some spikemoss before this project is declared “completed.”

Since this is a collaboration, we will get together to tweak it later this week….weather permitting.

But I get to enjoy it for a few days first.  Since it is green, and not snowy, I thought you might enjoy seeing how it is coming along, too.

~February 17, 2015 002


Woodland Gnome 2015

Building a Terrarium

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Do you like miniature gardens and “little worlds”?  I downloaded samples of several books about miniature gardens, fairy gardens, and terrariums on Saturday looking for inspiration and fresh ideas.


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Terrariums and fairy gardens first caught my imagination in childhood.  I love that terrariums are largely closed ecological systems, mimicking the water cycle of our planet where water evaporates, condenses, and then returns to the soil.  Once constructed, a balanced terrarium can live indefinitely; or at least until the plants outgrow their vessel.

These are great little gardens for those with little space, or for those who want to bring a bit of nature into their professional environment.  There isn’t any anxiety over keeping them properly watered or making a mess, with a little garden in a bottle.


Divisions used in this little garden include a golden creeping Sedum and a division of peacock spikemoss.

Divisions used in this little garden include a golden creeping Sedum and a division of peacock spikemoss.  I broke these off of pots I’m overwintering in the garage.


My point in building this little terrarium, beyond the fun and beauty of it, is to demonstrate a few of the “tips and tricks” which make it an easy project.  Yes, so easy that you can pull it together in an afternoon, and then spend the evening admiring it with friends over a glass of wine


An olive oil bottle from Trader Joes. Needs a bit more scrubbing to get the rest of that glue off!

This  olive oil bottle came from Trader Joe’s.   It needs a bit more scrubbing to get the rest of that glue off!


My bottle came full of olive oil from Trader Joes.  The olive oil was delicious, by the way, and I just saved the bottle in the pantry because it was too pretty to throw away.


Agates from Oregon beaches have a new home now in the terrarium. They're prettiest when wet, anyway. The scarf is one I just finished for a friend.

Agates from Oregon beaches have a new home now in the terrarium. They’re prettiest when wet, anyway.  The scarf is one I just finished for a friend.


The stones are mostly agates picked up off beaches in Oregon.  There is a layer of reindeer moss from the craft store, left over from my moss-covered wreathes, and then another layer of glass shards from a bag of assorted glass purchased at the crafts store for other projects.


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New potting soil and bits of plant materials from the garden complete the project.  My only new investment here was a bit of time on Sunday afternoon.



All terrariums need an inch or so of loose stones as their base layer.  Not only are they pretty and interesting to view from the glass, but they form the drainage system of the environment.  Any water you add to the terrarium, which isn’t absorbed, drains down into the stones so the soil isn’t waterlogged.


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Many builders add a little bit of aquarium charcoal to this layer of stones to help filter the water and keep it “sweet.”

The layer of moss between the stones and the soil serves as a barrier to the soil to keep it from running down into the stones.  It is purely aesthetic.  I added bits of “beach glass” around this moss layer to add to that barrier, as well as for the color.

Now, there are easier ways to do most anything.  Hold the bottle at an angle when adding the stones and glass, to direct where they fall.  I added a few stones to the center of my pile to take up space, allowing more of the agates to be visible against the glass.  Tilt the bottle when dropping in bits of beach glass to direct where you want the glass to land, then nudge it into place with a long, narrow tool.

Use whatever you have on hand to work inside the terrarium.  Many builders suggest chopsticks.  The cheap ones which come with your meal are the best.  I also like bamboo food skewers, and always have a pack lying around.  Even a pencil works just fine to nudge things into place through the narrow opening of the jar.


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The depth of soil needed depends entirely on plant choice.  Ferns and sedums need a little soil.  Moss needs very little.  I’ve used just over an inch of soil.  The roots will also grow down through the reindeer moss and into the stones below to reach the water there, eventually.


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A piece of paper, rolled into a funnel, is all you need to get soil or sand into your terrarium neatly.  Just spoon it through the opening, and nudge it into place with your long skinny tool.

Plants can be dropped through the opening, or gently rolled up into a piece of paper and then slid through the opening, before being nudged into place.


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These tiny plants have tiny roots.  It is fairly easy to work soil around the roots , pushing everything into place with your chopstick or pencil.


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I finished off by covering the soil with bits of garden moss.  Everything was frozen solid here on Saturday.  These bits were actually pried out of a pot on the deck, where I’ve been holding them since November.


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The secret to making an interesting miniature garden lies in beginning with tiny starts of things, and then allowing time for them to grow.

For example, you might plant a seed or a bulb, so long as the plant itself will fit in the space the terrarium allows.  Can you see a tiny crocus growing inside this bottle, from a bulb planted in the fall?  It would be a very temporary display, but very cool.

I’ve used another tiny division of peacock spikemoss, Selaginella uncinata, which can grow quite large, on one side of the bottle; and a tiny baby strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, still attached to its umbilical stem, right in the middle.  My strawberry begonia plants, growing inside this winter, are making new baby plants every week!  I simply lowered this one, by its stem, into place where I want it to grow.  Its roots will take hold now in the soil, and quickly anchor it into place.

Once planted, add little stones, crystals, shells, marbles, bits of glass, or other ornaments to suit your vision.  Add tiny furniture for a fairy garden.  Lay stone paths or patios.  Add a statue if you wish.  This is your garden and you can do as you please!


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The final step of construction is watering.  I prefer to use bottled spring water so no chemicals are introduced, which might affect the growth of the plants.  And one must water very sparingly.  Little drops at a time are used to rinse away any specks of soil on the glass and to settle the roots into their new soil.

I left this bottle open for the first 36 hours to allow for some evaporation.  An opening this small could be left open all of the time.  But by replacing the stopper, this little garden won’t need additional water for months.  If the glass fogs up, I can remove the stopper for a few hours to allow the water to clear.  If the soil begins to look dry, a few drops of added water will solve the problem.

That is really all you need to know to now build your own terrarium. 


Place your finished terrarium in bright light, but not right against a window. This one sits opposite the doors to our deck.

Place your finished terrarium in bright light, but not right against a window. This one sits opposite the doors to our deck.


When choosing plants, select those which enjoy high humidity and which can grow without overwhelming the interior space of your garden.

Terrariums can be built to accommodate succulents.  These need openings for air circulation, and should be started off with even less water.  Air plants, which don’t require soil, make excellent terrarium specimens.  But these should be placed on wood or gravel, since contact with potting soil may lead them to rot.  The possibilities are limited mainly by your imagination and the depth of your purse!

Following are the books I reviewed this weekend.



Woodland Gnome 2015


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One Word Photo Challenge: Grey

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Wendy and Alan Wubbel’s forest garden at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County is lush with growth in every shade of green, silver, burgundy, pink, orange, and chartreuse.

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Magical in its infinite variety of vegetation, it is not at all where one might expect to find grey.

Wendy and Alan's display gardens at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Wendy and Alan’s display gardens at Forest Lane Botanicals.

And yet grey is the foil, the backdrop, which makes the plants pop.

Stone and concrete, weathered wood and leaves traced in silver soothe the eye; offering a spot to rest one’s eyes from the myriad details of their lush landscape.

Fairy garden designed by Wendy Wubbel.

Fairy garden with miniature Hostas,  designed by Wendy Wubbel .


Neutral and grounded, grey speaks to eons of continuity and perseverance.

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Its inert solidity provides the perfect contrast to green growing things which leap to life each spring.

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Wendy and Alan, welcoming and brimming with talk about their wonderful plants, greeted us this morning and led us around every path of the garden.

Another of Wendy's magical fairy gardens.

Another of Wendy’s magical fairy gardens.

We considered natives and hybrids, Maples and Hostas, Begonias and ferns.

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They offered initiation into growing a new genus:  the pitcher plant,  Sarracenia. 

Loving full sun, wet feet and dry ankles, as Wendy explained, we have the perfect spot to grow the pitcher plant we brought home with us:  in the new grey hypertufa  pot I’m already planning to cast for it.

All photos in this post were taken at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia.

All photos in this post were taken at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

With Appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells 

for hosting the Weekly One Word Photo Challenge











One Word Photo Challenge: Turquoise in a Fairy Garden

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Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia, carries a number of dwarf hostas and other tiny plants.

Owners Wendy and Alan Wubbels have highlighted these miniature plants in a number of interesting ways.

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My favorite is their fairy garden. Fairy Gardens combine dwarf and low growing plants with all sorts of found materials to create whimsical, magical little landscape.

I think of these as horticultural dollhouses, designed to please the Fairy People.

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Turquoise is such a natural color to use in these little gardens.  Here it beautifully accents and enchants.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014


April 26, 2014 azaleas 014

With Appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells and her One Word Photo Challenge:  Turquoise



Forest Lane Botanicals


The display gardens at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia.

The display gardens at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia.

A neighbor  asked last summer whether I had discovered Forest Lane Botanicals.

She told me that it is a small family operation, a Virginia certified nursery specializing in ferns, hostas, Azaleas, Japanese Maples, various shade loving perennials, and some native plants.

This garden by the drive leading in to Forest Lane Botanicals enjoys shade from the forest and from established Azaleas.

This fountain by the drive leading in to Forest Lane Botanicals enjoys shade from the forest and from established Azaleas.

Intrigued, I made a mental note to find them.  One thing led to another, and their season ended before I found time to visit.

But I determined to find them this spring, and yesterday my partner and I visited for the first time.  The gardens are open to the public between March 12 and July 5 this year,  from 10 AM until 4 PM on Wednesdays through Saturdays.

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What a treasure!  This beautiful wooded property, near York River State Park, is tucked away along country lanes, in a residential area.

Owners Wendy and Alan Wubbels were away at a show in Richmond, but we visited with Cathy, who greeted us warmly and showed us around.

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The gardens exhibit the love and care with which they are maintained.

An intricate fairy garden in a large basin overlooks this forest garden

An intricate fairy garden in a large basin overlooks this forest garden

A peaceful and romantic woodland garden, the tremendous repertoire of plants blends seamlessly from one vignette and bed to the next across several acres.

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Garden art, sculpture, flowing fountains, fairy gardens, novel planting containers,  and unusual cultivars of familiar plants make this an intriguing garden to wander as one absorbs idea after idea for developing a woodland garden.

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A true partnership between man and nature is evident as one strolls through the beds. 

May Apple,

May Apple, Podophyllum peltatum, wanders through beds and along paths throughout the shade gardens.

Native May Apples, Podophyllum peltatum,  pop up at will in paths and beds, most now in bloom with their shy Hellebore like flowers tucked safely under the umbrella leaf.

Map Apples mix with ferns in this bed.

Map Apples mix with ferns and Foam Flower in this bed.

The large green leaves of this spring ephemeral march along the forest floor, springing up from underground rhizomes early each spring before leaves fill out the forest canopy, and then disappear by late summer.

sSedlings of Japanese Maple grow in the path beneath their parent tree.

Seedlings of Japanese Maple grow in the path beneath their parent tree.

Tiny Acer seedlings also escape the boundaries of beds, springing up beneath their parents in odd places.

A creeping form of Tiarella marches down a slope, awash in white blooms.

A creeping form of Tiarella, foam flower, cascades down this shady bed.

A creeping form of Tiarella, foam flower, cascades down this shady bed between ferns and Hostas.

Azalea shrubs are just bursting into flower as fronds unfurl to announce the presence of re-emerging ferns.

Hellebores are finishing up as ferns and Tiarella are emerging.

Hellebores are finishing up as ferns, Hostas and Heuchera are emerging.

Amazed at the many tasty plants, such as Hostas and Azaleas, which suffered no apparent nibbling from deer; I asked Cathy how the Wubbels protect their garden from grazing.

She indicated the many Boxwood shrubs throughout the garden.  Apparently, deer detest the aroma of Boxwood.  Along with a variety of sprays used on a regular basis, the Boxwood help deter deer from visiting the garden.

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A lovely garden, made all the more attractive for gardening fanatics like me because pots and pots of little starts of these lovely plants are lined up discreetly around the edge of the garden, and in a retail display area.

"Lady in Red"

“Lady in Red” Lady Fern has dark red stems on each frond.

I came looking for ferns, and left with three beautiful Lady Ferns,  Athyrium felix-femina  “Lady in Red.”

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Stands of Columbine by the drive, and emerging daylily foliage, hint at the beauty still to unfold here as the season progresses.

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My partner and I anticipate making a return trip very soon.  There is this lovely variegated Iris we have just the spot for…..

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Pitcher plants are found in abundance in sunny areas at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Pitcher plants are found in abundance in sunny areas at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

Please visit and follow Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues to see all new posts since January 8, 2021.

A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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