Growing up in the woods on the side of a mountain, I definitely had my share of adventures in the forest. And although I was never really introduced to the fantasy world of elves and gnomes and such, I always had a love of the time that I spent in the woods, thinking of all of the living creatures that were making their homes in the trees, stumps, fungi, and rocks that were around me.
My son and my nephew have the luck of being surrounded by woods at each of their houses. This past weekend, while we were cleaning up the property at my house for Earth Day, I got to thinking about gnomes and fairies that would be coming to life at this time of year in the stories of folklore. I wondered aloud what types of homes they would be making and whether they would be happy with all of the rain we have received. I asked the boys to help me and after explaining my plan, we all gathered the necessary supplies from the forest floor to make a little enchanted terrarium.
One large (clean) glass container with a lid
Soil from the forest floor
Small wooden peg doll(s)
Non-toxic acrylic paint
Gather enough moss to make a single layer in your vessel. I encouraged the boys to harvest the moss from the stumps of dead trees so they did not disturb a live one. They gathered several different types of moss to use in the terrarium.
Next the boys grabbed handfuls of soil for the moss to grow in and some small stones. They really loved this part the best, as it was an excuse to get up to their elbows in the earth and get really dirty!
When you have gathered all of your supplies, it is time for the layering of the terrarium.
Start by adding the small stones, making a one inch layer at the bottom of the vessel.
Layer in an inch or two of the forest soil.
Next add a layer of moss. There are several different ways to add the moss. You can just use a single sheet layer of moss, or you can mix the different types as we did. Another idea is to mound up some of the soil and form a little cave or hill in your terrarium. It is all up to you. Once you have the moss where you would like it, pat it down into the soil of the terrarium.
You can also have your little ones scavenge for little bits of nature to add to the terrarium, like a few tiny pine cones or some baby ferns or shade plants.
Now make some little inhabitants for your terrarium home.
We decided on two figures for our terrarium, an old man gnome and a darling little flower-petal fairy. You can make your figures as elaborate or plain as you wish. Below you will find my drawings in pencil for my two figures below.
My gnome is very plain with a jagged shirt bottom and a long beard.
I also gave him bell sleeves.
I decided to paint him in some contrasting colors to the terrarium, so he would stand out a bit more.
Since she is a flower fairy, I drew on some petals and an empire waist to her dress.
I drew her sleeves short.
And on her back, I drew the ultimate fairy accessory — wings!
I painted the wings white first and then painted the rest of the petals and her hair. The boys picked out her dress colors.
Please note that you can give your dolls a bit more personality by adding some accessories and facial expressions as shown below in contrast to the dolls in this tutorial. The dolls can also be sealed with a bit of decoupage medium painted over the complete doll to give it some shine as shown below on the dolls on the right side.
For the mushroom stools to add to the terrarium, I simply painted a few various shapes of wooden knobs. I left one base unfinished and painted the other one white, but I painted both of the tops red with white dots.
Let all of the wooden pieces dry in the sun.
And then add them into the terrarium where you would like them.
Either with faces…
Or without, it is all up to you.
The boys have already asked to make one for my nephew’s house, and we are planning on gathering all of our supplies from his back yard. They were so interested in learning about the folklore that surrounds these little elves and the homes that they could make in the woods around us. A bit of whimsy of a forest home brought into our own to share and learn.
Note: if you do not live in an area with moss, you can find many sites online that sell it. If you do not have the proper soil, you would probably be able to find a suitable soil at your local garden center or greenhouse.
Julia Daby is a Registered Nurse who lives happily with her husband and little boy in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. She enjoys crafts of all kinds, eating good food, reading, and being outdoors. Most important of all….she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She has a small store on etsy and she writes about life, family and creativity at Happiness Comes and We Deserve This.