Meet the ‘Designing Divas’ who create the fairy houses along Aullwood trail

These miniature dwellings along the trail at the Aullwood Nature Center have a fairy tale theme. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON
These miniature dwellings along the trail at the Aullwood Nature Center have a fairy tale theme. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON

Those inspired by these tiny treasures can make their own

Imagine walking through an enchanted forest and discovering tiny homes along the way! While you’re strolling along the tree-lined path, play a guessing game and try to figure out which famous fairy tale characters live in each of these miniature dwellings.

Due to COVID-19, there were no fairy houses at Aullwood Nature Center last summer, but happily they’re back and will be on display through Labor Day. Check in at the front desk and pick up a quiz. The kids can fill it out along the way and there’ll be a gift waiting for them when they return. Before you start out, check out the amazing miniature library in the center’s Gift Shop where you’ll see a mother fairy reading tales to her children.

A special gourd, The Library, is located in the gift shop. LISA POWELL / STAFF
A special gourd, The Library, is located in the gift shop. LISA POWELL / STAFF

“Many beloved fairy tales are set deep in enchanted forests and woods,” says Aullwood’s office manager, Barbara Trick. “This year we’re inviting visitors to wander along Aullwood’s woodland trail into the world of princes, princesses, fairies and even a witch or two.”

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If the fairy houses inspire you, you may even want to create your own. In addition to a variety of tiny items available in the Aullwood Gift Shop, there are miniatures at the Little Fairy Garden shop in Yellow Springs and at an upcoming Midwest Miniature Showcase in Fairborn.

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Janie Gehman installs her fairy house. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON
Janie Gehman installs her fairy house. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON

Designing Divas

The trio of dedicated volunteers who create new fairy houses at Aullwood includes two sisters — Judi Hill and Janie Gehman — and their good friend, Kathy Anderson.

Hill, who has been volunteering at Aullwood for 25 years, first worked at the front desk and then in the gift shop. Eventually she began making craft items for the shop. When Aullwood’s new executive director Alexis Faust asked if she’d be interested in creating fairy houses along the woodsy trail, she recruited her sister and a friend to help with the project.

“I had done fairy houses at an arboretum in Indiana,” says Faust, who served as president and CEO of the Taltree Arboretum before coming to Dayton. “People loved them, they sparked everyone’s imagination — children, parents, grandparents.”

Judi Hill creates a landscape for her house. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON
Judi Hill creates a landscape for her house. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON

Hill, who is from Beavercreek, says when she was 5 years old, she loved a comic featuring Lilliputs. “I would play and pretend Lilliputs were all around me,” she remembers. “They were tiny and I was the giant. I think that’s why people love miniatures — we feel powerful and they’re so tiny.”

Faust says the three Aullwood volunteers — who’ve been dubbed the Designing Divas — have the artistry, vision and skill to create little houses that attract thousands of visitors each summer. She says many people come back multiple times.

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How it’s done

“That first year, I don’t think any of us knew what we were doing,” admits Anderson, who lives in Butler Twp. “We used tree stumps as the basis for the houses. Since that time other materials have been used — from recycled materials to gourds. The more I learn, the more excited I get.”

The trio begins with a brainstorming session to decide on an overall theme. “Once we have a theme we decide on six subjects that would represent our theme,” she explains. “For example, when the theme was birds, we had to decide which birds we wanted our houses to represent.”

Each woman then picks two houses she’d like to build and begins her research. “We learn everything we can about our subjects and often scour the internet and YouTube for ideas,” Anderson says. “Then we decide how to actually make the house. From start to finish, the process takes several months.”

Kathy Anderson works on her gingerbread house. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON
Kathy Anderson works on her gingerbread house. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON

Hill says they try not to buy materials for the houses and prefer to make them from items they have in their garages, attics and basements. “Before we throw something away at home, we think, ‘What part of a fairy house could this be?’ This year, for example, a plastic spoon handle became a picket fence, a bathtub spa tray and a chain leftover from hanging a chandelier became a castle drawbridge, wine bottle corks morphed into a roof and rope found new life as a thatched roof.”

Traditionally the women work together at Aullwood to create their magical houses. This year, due to the pandemic, each worked at home.

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“We really missed working together and bouncing ideas off of one another,” says Hill. “This year’s installation day at the end of June was the first time we had seen each other’s creations.”

In addition to installing the tiny houses and accessories, the women bring plants and flowers to create a colorful landscape surrounding each home.

These miniature dwellings along the trail at the Aullwood Nature Center have a fairy tale theme. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON
These miniature dwellings along the trail at the Aullwood Nature Center have a fairy tale theme. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID ANDERSON

The Designing Divas say they couldn’t possibly do their special work without the help of their husbands. “We’ve decided that we have the three best husbands in the world because they were all drawn into the project,” says Hill. “They end up doing a lot of the world — hauling topsoil, sawing wood, pulling poison ivy, taking photographs and cheering us on!”

The women are happy to help at Aullwood in any way they can. In addition to creating fairy houses, for instance, Gehman, who lives in Vandalia, has fashioned wreaths for the nature store, baked pies for Apple Fest, helped with kids’ summer adventure classes and been turned into an animal character for the Enchanted Forest at Halloween.

“I believe Aullwood truly makes a difference in children’s lives by exposing them to the wonders of nature and teaching them about the world around them,” she says. “It’s a magical place!”

The LIttle Fairy Garden Shop in Yellow Springs sells fairy-themed gifts, plants, art and handmade fairy costumes. CONTRIBUTED
The LIttle Fairy Garden Shop in Yellow Springs sells fairy-themed gifts, plants, art and handmade fairy costumes. CONTRIBUTED

Want to make a fairy garden?

If you’re interested in creating your own fairy garden, Kim Lemkau, owner of the LIttle Fairy Garden Shop in Yellow Springs, will be glad to assist. In addition to selling fairy-themed gifts, plants, art and handmade fairy costumes, her charming party room is available for drop-in-miniature garden workshops and birthday gatherings.

Her biggest customers, she says, are the grandparents.

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“You can make a fairy garden outside, in a birdbath or in a terrarium,” says Lemkau. “You can make a complete scene for as little as $40.”

The shop sells tiny figures, from dragons and pirates to pixies, gnomes, tiny furniture. You’ll find miniature plants and unusual plants such as the “sensitivity plant” that opens and closes when it’s touched.

“I used to be in baking, but wanted to do something more fun,” says Lemkau, who opened her shop four years ago. “I just love it!”

The LIttle Fairy Garden Shop in Yellow Springs has a party room that's available for drop-in-miniature garden workshops and birthday gatherings. CONTRIBUTED
The LIttle Fairy Garden Shop in Yellow Springs has a party room that's available for drop-in-miniature garden workshops and birthday gatherings. CONTRIBUTED

If you’re looking for miniatures, you’ll find a large assortment at the Midwest Miniature Showcase in Fairborn slated for Aug. 13-14. There will be more than 30 tables of small items for sale by vendors from Ohio and other states.

“My love of miniatures began 63 years ago when I was five and the Fuller Brush salesman came to our home in Dayton and brought miniature samples of lipstick in tiny gold tubes,” recalls Kathy Davis of Tipp City, who works on the annual sale. “I was hooked! I loved playing with dolls and dollhouses as well as having a fascination with fairies. I have made fairy houses from dried gourds and furnished them with dollhouse furniture. You are never too old to enjoy this wonderful hobby.”

HOW TO GO

What: Aullwood Audubon Nature Center and Farm, 1000 Aullwood Road, Dayton

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: Free for children 2 and under, $7 for children 3 to 11 and $10 for adults and children 12 and older. Free to members of Friends of Aullwood, National Audubon Society. Aullwood is a Blue Star Museum with free admission for members of the military until Labor Day.

More info: aullwood.audubon.org

HOW TO GO

What: Little Fairy Garden shop

Where: 224 Xenia Ave., in King’s Yard Plaza, Yellow Springs

When: Noon to 6 p.m. every day

For info: (714) 785-5876 or visit www.littlefairygarden.com

HOW TO GO

What: Midwest Miniature Showcase

Where: Wingate by Wyndham, 3055 Presidential Drive, Fairborn

When: 4 .m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 13 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14.

Admission: $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 3-15.

For info: Call Helen Naughton at (937) 879-9367 or MidMiniShowcase@yahoo.com