June 11, 2011

Guest Post: The Fairy Tale Garden, By Suzanne Sisco

Editor's Note: Gardens and fairies are natural companions, as Suzanne Sisco so ably demonstrates in this guest post. The pictures here are from a garden maintained by a friend of Suzanne's. As a gardener myself, I can see that there is art and magic in that patch of land! Suzanne is an accomplished writer, telling us, "I am freelance writer and journalist based in Kansas. I have worked as a reporter for two Kansas newspapers. My work has appeared in magazines and on the Hallmark Channel."

Extra Note: The "Snow White" poetry issue will be publishing in a week or so. As a result, we will be briefly suspending the guest blogging program, so as to let the "Snow White" issue have the spotlight! KW

Have you ever walked though a garden or a wooded area and thought to yourself, ‘This place looks like it came straight from a fairy tale?’

Gardens, tame and wild, are an integral part of the fairy tale theme.

Fairy tales were created by county folk, telling their children stories around a campfire. They cleared the woods around them for food, to build houses and to create a safe place for their children. To these early farmers, gardens represented food, comfort and security. They represented civilization and control.

In many stories flowers and plants are the magic. Without that magic, there is no story at all. Without the roses surrounding the castle in “Sleeping Beauty”, there is nothing to overcome. Without the Beast’s beautiful garden, Beauty never meets him. Without the apple tree in “The Apple of Contentment”, the youngest daughter continues to slave for her family. Without the beanstalk you only have the story of a silly, wasteful son named Jack.

As you can see in these stories, when something bad came from a garden it seemed to follow a bad act. Stealing flowers, fruit or vegetables always led to trouble. If there was no bad act, the garden gave you good things.

Rapunzel came into being because of an especially attractive vegetable but her parents lost her because they had stolen it from a witch.

If there was no bad act, the garden gave you good things, like Jack’s beanstalk leading him to riches.
Like Rapunzel in many fairy tales, the garden plants are the characters themselves.
Tom Thumb and Thumbelina were both born from garden plants. This is true across cultures. The Japanese folk tale, “Peach Boy”, features a hero born from a giant peach.

Gardens and orchards represent order and good things while the wild of the forest often represented evil magic. The door to fairyland was believed to be through a forest. Remember, fairies were not always considered to be something you would want to meet. Fairies were something to be avoided and, in some cases, feared.

“We daren’t go a-hunting for fear of little men.”

Those evil fairies and elves danced in the forest glade. Where do gnomes, ogres and orcs live? To find the witch, Snow White’s mother must go to the forest.

This theme is repeated many times in all kinds of fairy tales.

Snow White, Hansel and Gretel were all abandoned in a wild forest. Although, in the Disney version, the forest befriended and protected Snow White, in the original fairytale, the woods were dark, frightening and very dangerous. Snow White, Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel all found danger in the wild woods.

Those first storytellers had spent the day pushing back the woods to create fields and gardens. So it is natural that their stories would reflect their world. That is why those of us that love fairy tales, love gardens and wild places too. They are a reflection of the pictures the stories created for us. For that brief space in time, we are transported back to that tiny hut surrounded by our gardens and encircled by the wild woods.

Click on pics to see them in greater detail!


  1. This is a wonderful essay - thank you! (Love the new background color too.)

  2. Wonderful article. We live in the woods, and often feel like there is something magical going on in our "yard".

    The other day, my ten year old son and I were walking up the drive. I saw something flying nearby. It was a tiny insect wearing what appeared to be a little white dress. "Look! What do you think that is?" I asked.

    He replied without hesitation, "Maybe it's a fairy."

    Upon looking it up, we believe it was a winged adult woolly aphid. Google tells us they tend to make homes in apple trees, and we have one next to the drive.

    But had we not had Google, we'd have gone on thinking it was a fairy ;)

  3. What? This is sooo magical... love it so. Off to look around. Thanks for the words and wonder. Blessings.

  4. This is a wonderfully written piece. I haven't worked on my fairytale for ever! I started when I was in college. I haven't even read it in years. Thanks for coming by and reminding me of it Kate!

  5. I remember reading "Fairy Tales" as a child and realizing that many if not "most" did not have any "fairies" in them. However as the author of this post points out, many of these stories feature natural themes including gardens and the forest. I love the way she wove in so many different tales and their themes and enjoyed reading this.

  6. I like how you discussed the connection with flowers and plants in fairy tales. Their significance is important; it raises the question of why? It reminds me of the familiar story of Adam and Eve in the Bible. Eve, portrayed as a sort of naïve woman, is warned from God to refrain from eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Just like in tales such as “Sleeping Beauty”, this forbidden fruit is desirable and appealing and Adam and Eve end up eating the apple from the Garden of Eden. Also makes me think of Pandora in the myth “Pandoras Box”, instead the beauty of the box tempts her and her curiosity takes over and causes her to open the box. Perhaps these symbols are present in these stories that were made to teach children to not be tempted by looks.