A fantasy garden might be imagined as a rolling green carpet of grass and carefully manicured shrubs set among weeping willows, perhaps tucked away in a tony Malibu neighborhood. Another fantasy garden has actually taken shape in Malibu during the pandemic. In a small enclave of homes high in the Malibu hills, hidden in plain sight in the front yard of his home, a Malibu man has constructed his own fairy garden. He built it for his two-year-old daughter, but now it’s delighting other neighborhood children and adults, too.

Chance Rowe’s young toddler enjoys playing outdoors, but when the pandemic hit in March the youngster’s favorite playgrounds—Malibu Bluffs Park and the park at Whole Foods—were suddenly off limits. In the springtime, while stuck at home, a large drooping peppertree in Rowe’s front yard sparked the idea to create a fairy garden at that very spot. Rowe, who works as an art director in the video game industry, took the challenge his wife gave him to make an actual mini playground for their daughter and her fairy friends.

Rowe started researching what a tiny fantasy garden might look like to get ideas. The garden, only three square feet or so, under the shade of the peppertree, is made up of a combination of pieces he made himself or bought. The miniatures are woven together with actual leaves, grass and dirt to seamlessly blend with faux vines and flora to create the tiny fantasy play area. The Rowe family went to an arts and crafts supply store and loaded up on moss, miniature doors, twigs, figurines and clear epoxy “to make sure everything would actually stick together.” After two major wind storms that blew through Malibu in the fall, Rowe’s little fairy garden is still intact, including two hanging pieces—a birdhouse and a tubular bird’s nest made of rolled twigs. 

Rowe customized the birdhouse. It started as a plain unpainted piece until he sculpted a stone chimney, painted it to look rustic and glued decorative moss on top. The trunk of the peppertree was transformed into a fairy hideaway by adding a faux doorway at the base.

Some of the handmade items include red toadstools “like you see in classic fairy scenes.” The young father was able to sculpt those out of an airdry clay. The insides are held together with armature wire and then hand painted and varnished. 

The garden is an ongoing project with many weekends spent adding new pieces to join the tiny tea pots, butterflies, squirrels and leaf-topped gazebo. The family can often be found at Toy Crazy in Malibu to purchase new figurines to add to the menagerie.

“It’s one of her favorite places to play,” Rowe said. “Instead of having a little dollhouse inside, she’s got this outside space that she really enjoys playing with. It’s been fun, too, because we’ve got to see some of the other kids in the neighborhood come by. They’re in the same situation—they’ve been stuck at home, too.  They’ll actually sit on the little bench out there and they’ll look at the fairies. That’s been kind of cute to have that. It’s been helpful, too, because we’ve all been stuck here this year in quarantine. Having little spaces around where you can play outside has been really good.”

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