There's a lot of inspiration for gardeners in old-fashioned nursery rhymes and fairy tales. What better reason to plant beans than Jack's gigantic experiences or to put in a row of radishes, knowing how desirable they were Rapunzel's mother? Preferring rambling roses over standards can be attributed to a liking as a child for the thorn-protected castle in which Sleeping Beauty slumbered, should a purist rose-grower ask and convincing a husband or wife that a walnut tree is just what the front yard needs is easy when you're able to claim a desire to produce the tiny boats Thumbelina sailed in to escape the clutches of the clammy would-be-her-husband, toad. For your grandchildren's amazement, of course. It's the very young who will benefit most from a garden that's themed 'faerie', but you'll find, as I have, that the richness that comes with linking planting with story-telling benefits you as well. And it doesn't mean filling your garden with plaster-cast statues of gnomes and cast-iron fairies perched on the lips of bird-baths either.
A magical garden can look like any other, pretty much, with flowers, shrubs and trees that are just as they seem, but knowing the stories behind them and arranging your garden to best represent the fabulous side of the ordinary plants you've chosen, is the way to add intrigue to what otherwise might be unremarkable. Your beans, for example, might climb up the netting of your hen-run, providing an opportunity for you to mention the laying of golden eggs. The door through which you lead your grandchildren to collect the brown and white variety could be subtley shaped as if it were a harp, couldn't it? You could have a pond and it could have lily-pads able to support a certain Mr Jeremy Fisher while he angles for sticklebacks or what looks curiously like a golden ball lying away in the murky depths. Your pathways could wind in a care-free manner, as Red Riding-Hood's did through the wolf-concealing forest, rather than being ruler-straight. A birch tree with it's mycchorrizal toadstools, left red and undisturbed in their white-spotted glory, could serve as a centre-piece in a garden that sets the imaginations of visiting children free. I've planted barley for straw so my grandson can see it and touch it and even roll about in it while I tell him the tale of the 3 little pigs and then Rumplestiltskin and the “spin-gold-from-straw” miller's daughter. I struggle to grow pumpkins so he's going to have to hear Cinderella and Peter, Peter pumkin-eater from someone else but I've plenty of plum trees under which I can rhyme Little Jack Horner's curious experience, apple trees for the adventures of Johny Appleseed, pears for the King of Spain's daughter, tiger lilies for a touch of Peter Pan and any number of twiggy shrubs that frame spider-webs, the perfect backdrop for a quick Incey Wincey rhyme or a somewhat darker journey through Shelob's lair, though Tolkien's stories will probably have to wait til 2 year-old Leo's a little more seasoned to scarey stuff. An adult, looking at a garden that is designed as a
spring-board for story-telling might not be able to see the threads of adventure and intrigue you've woven into your flower beds and orchard, but that doesn't matter, it's not for them. A garden that's sub-audibly humming with little wings, the sound of spinning-wheels and the rattle of tiny swords and beetle-carapace armour is a children's garden and one that will make, not only a lover of fairy-tales of them but future gardeners too. And that's vitally important, I believe.