This fall, instead of carving a traditional jack-o’-lantern, I decided to transform my pumpkin into a spooky fairy house. Though, to be honest, the miniature dwelling turned out to be more whimsical and adorable than scary.
If you’ve never heard of a fairy house, don’t fret. The concept is quite simple. It’s just a small house made to shelter an even smaller, invisible, magical being. Remember the movie “FernGully”? Imagine that, but in your backyard.
Fairy house building is mostly thought of as an activity for children, but I’d argue that it can be a fun craft for adults as well. And my dog, Juno, seemed to enjoy monitoring the whole process.
Starting with a small pumpkin, I cut off its top and scooped out the seeds and goopy innards, just like I would for a jack-o’-lantern. I then traced out a rounded doorway and circular windows before carving with pumpkin carving tools.
Next, I searched for the ideal place for my fairy house, which ended up being a flat, mossy rock near my house, in view of the front walkway. I placed my pumpkin there, then walked around my property in search of decorations.
Everyone has different rules when it comes to fairy house building. But a common one is to only use natural objects in your construction. That means plants, rocks, shells, sticks, bark and more. However, it’s important that you don’t harm the environment in the process. In my opinion, yanking up clumps of moss or peeling bark from live trees is a big no-no in fairy house building. It’s just not necessary. I don’t think the fairies would like it, either.
For this reason, fall is the perfect time to build a fairy house because there are so many dried up, dead and fallen natural items to work with. As I walked around my yard and surrounding forest, I found acorns, a variety of colorful leaves that had just fallen, twigs, dried fern stalks, asters, a clump of wispy lichen and bark from fallen trees. I also snagged a few late-blooming flowers from my garden. Using my imagination, I used many of the items to decorate my pumpkin house.
Do you think the fairies will like it?
At night, I light the house with battery-powered lights. I could also use a candle.
If you don’t mind breaking the “all natural” rule, you could also add things like doll furniture. Or you could make it a bit more Halloweeny with cotton cobwebs and plastic spiders, skulls and bats (typical party favors). You could also paint your pumpkin to add siding, window and door frames, signs, vines or some other design.
Fairy house building is a family friendly activity and a great way to engage with the outdoors and get creative. Over the past decade or so, it has become increasingly popular. However, I’ve no doubt that children around the world have been building tiny dwellings out of natural materials for far longer than that.
I constructed my first fairy house in 2010, at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. While exploring the gardens, I came across a “fairy village,” which was a fenced off area in the forest where visitors were encouraged to build fairy houses.
A few years later, I spied a similar fairy village on a preserve in Harpswell. It was located along a popular trail called the Cliff Trail, which is managed by the Harpswell Heritage Trust.
I’ve also heard of fairy house areas on Monhegan Island and Mackworth Island, but I haven’t visited them yet.
If building a fairy house on property that you don’t own, it’s important to find a designated fairy house area or gain permission first. I hate to be a downer, but I’ve seen fairy houses built randomly along hiking trails, and they disrupt the natural beauty of the wilderness.
If interested in learning more about fairy houses, Maine author Liza Gardner Walsh has written several books on the topic, starting in 2012 with “Fairy House Handbook.” Dubbed “the fairy lady of Maine” by Down East Magazine, Walsh has written about everything from fairy house crafts to cooking. She’s also published four children’s storybooks about fairies.
I also suggest Maureen Heffernan’s 2010 book “Fairy Houses of the Maine Coast.”
In March 2020, while working from home at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote a how-to article about fairy house building for the Bangor Daily News. I thought it’d be a fun activity for people to do while stuck at home, especially with schools being closed. I tasked readers to build their own fairy house and send me the photos. The response was heartwarming. Children in Clifton, Blue Hill, Ellsworth and Warren rose to the challenge. I even had a girl from Washington state participate. Her grandfather, from Charlotte, Maine, told her about it.
For the article, I created a fairy house using a roll of birch bark from a fallen tree on my property. It was a challenge to bend the papery bark into a house-like shape and cut a domed doorway out of it with scissors. I created a walkway with tiny spruce cones, and topped off the roof with fallen lichen and granite pebbles.
I have to say, it’s easier to just use a pumpkin. The walls, floor and roof are already built in. If you’re looking for something new to do with your Halloween pumpkin, I highly suggest making a fairy house.