Community Groups Create Fairy Garden at Folklife Center

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tucked away in the grass by the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center lies the newest campus housing, but look closely or you might miss it. These tiny homes were designed for fairies.

The Marion County Master Gardeners and the Mountaineer Miniatures Club joined forces this summer to create a Fairy Garden, which is fitting because tales about the wee folk—fairies, elves, brownies and leprechauns—are part of the rich cultural heritage of Appalachia and the European immigrants who settled here in West Virginia.

“Fairmont State University appreciates the hard work of the community members who designed and made this unique garden a reality. The garden is a great reminder of West Virginia folklore and the traditions that the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center showcase and preserve,” said FSU President Maria Rose.

The idea for the garden grew out of a 2011 folklore presentation as part of the Lifelong Learners program supported by Pierpont Community & Technical College. The group members wanted to do a project to benefit the Folklife Center on the shared campus of FSU and Pierpont. Peggy Edwards of Fairmont, who is a member of the Miniatures Club and the Master Gardeners, suggested the idea of creating a Fairy Garden.

“A place to invite the fairies fits in with the Folklife Center beautifully,” Edwards said. “The Miniatures Club does things that fairies would like all the time.”

Jill Brock of Fairmont, a member of the Master Gardeners, agreed to serve as coordinator for the volunteer project.

“Fairies were driven out by humans, but more modern thinking is to create a place for them,” Brock said.

The campus Physical Plant staff knew just the place, close to the Folklife Center parking lot so it could be seen from those driving by, and they immediately committed to help to mulch and water the garden to keep it hospitable.

“Jamie Colanero and the Physical Plant staff are to be commended for the hard work they do to keep our campus, including the three gardens at the Folklife Center, looking their best. We truly appreciate all they do every day,” said Dr. Judy P. Byers, Director of the Folklife Center.

The volunteers came up with a statement to explain the Fairy Garden concept: “Common Celtic belief is that fairies were driven away by humans to live in the other world. However, many fairies have chosen to stay among us. They wear flowers for clothes which makes them hard to find. They are said to have magical powers, are very shy and tend to be a little mischievous. Fairies like to play tricks; they move things around in the garden and hide things just for their own amusement. They love to dance and if you look closely, you may see them dancing in the dark with the fireflies. While they make their homes in the holes of trees, fallen logs and mossy hillsides, they are never ones to turn down a ready-made home. Fairies would rather plan than work; a fairy house and a garden is always appreciated.”

Many community members contributed plants or fairy homes. Karen Morris-Taylor drew the schematics for the garden. The planting of the garden was done in June by Frances Graves, Kathie Clayton, Susan Hale, Suze Dempsey, Katie Mentzer, Peggy Edwards, Stella Barnett, Martha Warren, Shirley Brown, Dan Brown, Nellie Orsburn, Jill Brock and Joe Brock. 

Fairy gardens are usually contained in a pot or small square and use many natural elements. “It is a challenge to keep the plants small and a bit of a challenge to have a larger area to fill,” Brock said.

Certain plants such as primrose were selected to attract fairies. Volunteers will be planting nandinas that keep their color all year long. Most of the flowers are pink, purple, white and red. “They need to be gentle colors and smallish plants. Roses are important, a fairy garden staple,” Brock said.

Edwards contributed a wheelbarrow that includes a miniature spruce tree, an acorn trash receptacle “to keep it neat,” a birdhouse, some seed, lavender and a fairy to live there.

The garden includes one fairy home made by Shirley Brown from gourds and another features a bowl with a fountain.

Jean Dawson fashioned two fairy homes out of garden pots and donated many of the plants from the garden at her home outside of Farmington. “What she doesn’t know about plants is not worth knowing,” Brock said.

A fairy now sits atop a special piece of cherry wood contributed by Diana George. The wood was part of the totem at the Marion County 4H Camp on land owned by Fairy Downs and her family. Downs’ sister Roxy Dillon served as Dean of Women at Fairmont State.

“How we will know if the fairies have accepted the garden is that a mushroom circle will grow,” Edwards said. But don’t step into the middle of the circle if it does grow, Byers said, because that’s how humans get transported into the world of the fairies.

In their “Introduction to Folklore” and “Folk Literature” classes, FSU students learn that stories about the wee folk are classified as supernatural legends. Fairy tales are a type of folktale that includes supernatural help with a magical quality in the form of wee folk. The original versions of the most common fairy tales collected in the 1700s and 1800s in Europe by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson are sometimes much different than the Disney versions of the modern era.

“Tales of wee folk and help from fairies have been traditionally told in the hills,” Byers said. “Ruth Ann Musick believed in fairies.”

The Folklife Center houses Musick’s unpublished folklore estate. Dr. Ruth Ann Musick was archivist for the West Virginia Folklore Society and editor of the West Virginia Folklore Journal, which evolved in 1992-1993 into the Traditions: A Journal of West Virginia Folk Culture and Educational Awareness still published today at Fairmont State. Musick was the primary female folklore scholar of the cultural heritage of West Virginia, mainly through the recording of supernatural legends. She collected, researched, and published four major folktale collections: “Ballads, Folk Songs, and Folk Tales from West Virginia”; “The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales”; “Green Hills of Magic, West Virginia Folktales from Europe”; and “Coffin Hollow and Other Ghost Tales.”

Since Musick’s death in Fairmont in 1974, Byers has served as executrix of Musick’s folklore estate, comprised of Musick’s own unpublished collections and the archives of the West Virginia Folklore Society. It was Musick’s wish that the collection be housed at Fairmont State and be used for programming and that someday a center or folklore study emphasis would be created. In 1993, Musick’s collection was brought to campus. In 2010, an extensive renovation of the former Colonial Apartments and Kennedy family dairy barn was completed and the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center opened its doors.

“You have to know the roots and how they spread out and come back in,” Byers said.

Brock and Edwards have many connections to the Folklife Center. In 1992, Brock was a student in the first Folklife Institute sponsored by the West Virginia Humanities Council at Fairmont State and has done archiving for the Folklife Center.

“I am such a believer in human connections with meaning. They are so important,” Brock said.

Edwards’ husband, Dr. Paul Edwards, has taught at Fairmont State and Pierpont for many years. It was Dr. Paul Edwards, along with JoAnn Lough, who helped find a home on campus for Musick’s archives in 1993. Peggy Edwards’ parents, Frank and Gladys Doerfler, attended the Elderhostel West Virginia cultural sessions that used to be held on campus.

“It’s almost as if there is just a force drawing it all together,” Byers said. “We’re very fortunate to have this concept here on this campus left by Ruth Ann Musick and we’re now in a position to showcase it.”

Following is a story titled “Lily-of-the-Valley” from “Ballads, Folk Songs and Folk Tales from West Virginia” collected by Dr. Ruth Ann Musick and published by West Virginia University Library in 1960:

“One of four Irish flower stories contributed by Wallace Murray, as told to him by Miss Elizabeth Kelly. Each of the stories tells how a flower originated in Ireland, or how it was named.

Five little fairy sisters, going out to dance one night, carried tiny cups to gather dew for the queen’s breakfast. They hung the cups on grass blades while they frolicked, and they were having such fun that they completely forgot the time, and the sun popped up over the hills and dried all the dew. In alarm, for a fairy must never be out after sunrise, they ran for the cups and found they had grown fast to the grass blades. At that moment their fairy godmother appeared and surrounded each grass blade with two broad leaves, so the cups would be hidden and the queen would never miss them.”