Jeff Barnes, music therapist, summons the fairies during last year’s Fairies in the Garden event at the Woodland Gardens. Photo: courtesy Woodland Gardens

Fairies find a home in a Decatur garden

If there are tiny spirits living in the Woodland Gardens, a pocket-sized park in the middle of booming Decatur, there are plenty of places for those sprites to find shelter.

Just this week dozens of Tinkerbell-size homes, made out of bark and leaves and flowers and other organic ingredients, have been placed throughout the rolling seven-acre lot, tucked in the hollows of old trees and behind banks of blooms.

On Saturday a small army of slightly bigger spirits — infants and toddlers and youngsters still at the age when magic isn’t completely out of the question — will be strolling through the Woodland Gardens, inspecting those little structures eagerly, to see if the supernatural denizens of Decatur’s own Ferngully might be in residence.

The children will be outfitted with wings and wands and flower crowns, and though even the smallest of them will be too big to fit in these cunning domiciles, they will seem right at home.

The occasion is the seventh annual Fairies in the Garden event at the Woodland Gardens, a gathering of earthly and heavenly angels that is free and open to the public.

“It was wildly popular last year,” said Kate McAlpin, the Woodland Gardens’ executive director. “This is our most popular, most well attended event.”

With no advertising (and scant parking), diminutive Woodland Gardens drew 1,300 visitors to last year’s event, many of whom parked at nearby Westchester Elementary School on the other side of Clairemont Avenue and trooped down Scott Boulevard to the garden’s entrance, dressed in fairy wings.

“It was a magical thing, seeing all these kids coming down the road,” said fairy home fancier Libba Shortridge, “kind of like Dragon Con, but with a different feeling. It was an invasion of winged children.”

Shortridge helps coordinate an important element of the day. She is a horticultural therapist at Skyland Trail, a community-based mental health treatment center with five locations between Decatur and Buckhead.

Every year clients at Skyland Trail construct the tiny fairy home sculptures as a form of art therapy. One patient, identified as Tony, wrote of his experience building a home for “Misty Mountain Fairies:” “I always found myself smiling and enjoying just ‘that’ moment . . like children do.”

A patient named Amanda wrote a poem about the experience of creative mindfulness:

In time, the glint off the petal of a straw flower,

the warm yellow glow of a poplar leaf

catches the twinkle of a hidden pair of eyes.

Ephemeral wings emerge as the

playful faeries draw nearer.

Woodland Gardens, open during daylight hours seven days a week, began as the spacious acreage surrounding the home of local physician Chester Morse and his wife Eugenia, who moved there in 1946 and filled their little world with camellias, azaleas, peonies, roses and many native plants.

The Morse family donated the land and house to the Decatur Preservation Alliance in 2002, a remarkable gift at a time when Decatur home prices were exploding and the parcel was valued at $3 million.

The Woodland Gardens is now a self-sustaining nonprofit organization overseen by a board of directors.

Children attending the Fairies in the Garden event will make their own wands and crowns and other items out of natural materials, all for free. The garden’s managers hope to offset the cost of the event with a few fund-raising activities, including a raffle conducted during the day.

The fairy houses at Woodland Gardens will remain for the month of October for any visitor to enjoy, though the forces of nature will, inevitably, deconstruct these charming constructions.

“With leaves falling and squirrels getting hungry they will naturally decompose and return to the earth,” said McAlpin. Volunteers from Skyland Trail will, at the end of the month, tidy up any stray non-biodegradable materials left over, she said.

And the fairies? We understand there are some job openings at the North Pole.

Fairies in the Garden, at Woodland Gardens, 2-4:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7; free; 932 Scott Blvd., Decatur, Ga. Off-site parking only: at Westchester Elementary School, 758 Scott Blvd., and BB&T Bank, 221 Clairmont Rd. 404-315-8333

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