By Bob Uphues
"The world needs a little more magic."
That's the answer you're likely to get from Shirley Trimborn, if you ask her about the garden in the front yard of her Brookfield home. It's not your average flower garden, though they certainly play an important role in creating a miniature, magical world that has been a favorite stop for kids – and adults – in the neighborhood.
Four years ago, Trimborn introduced her fairy garden to the landscape and it has kept growing since then. At the time, the fairies found their homes inside three flower pots set at the corner of the lot at 4200 Vernon Ave.
"Kids would come by and they seemed to really like it," Trimborn said. "It was kind of magical for them. I thought we could do more with this and just built on it year after year.
After that first year, Trimborn's plans got more ambitious to the point where creating, setting up and maintaining the fairy garden's miniature display areas has become a family affair involving Shirley's husband, Thom, who wields the chainsaw that carves tree trunks into fairyland structures, and her sons, Connor, 20, and Cameron, 17.
"Fairies are beautiful and magical, but it takes a lot of epoxy and polyurethane to put it out," Trimborn said.
There are four separate hollow-log fairy caves on display now, including the original "castle" – a carved stump that replaced the pots after year one. After that came the gem mine, gathering place and the 5-foot tall, multi-tiered fairy school, where fairies weave rainbows on a loom.
Rainbows are a theme throughout the fairy garden.
"Whole idea for this one was sort of acceptance of people for whatever walk of life they travel," Trimborn said. "The idea is to come by, imagine, feel good, take whatever positive message you can and just hold that for yourself. That's really all this is."
The theme is repeated in the gem mine, a colorful swirl of crystals, beads and glass. There's also a mirror at the back of the cave, and just who is reflected in that mirror depends on the person, Trimborn said. One of her neighbors told her that he sees a "big ugly troll."
"When his daughter looks in, she sees a fairy princess," Trimborn said. "So you just see what you see."
The new gathering place fairy cave is a good example of the creativity that goes into the garden. Tables and benches are made from polished scrap wood supported by wine corks. Baskets are made pieces of stamped metal ribbon with drinking glasses made from sticks, wire, buttons and beads.
Trimborn collects her materials from her home, craft stores, resale bins – and sometimes from visitors, who leave behind items to include.
"People, kids will leave things for the fairies," Trimborn said. "Barrettes, buttons. Someone left two tiny teacups in the castle.
"Someone came to our door and gave us this beautiful fairy last year," Trimborn added, pointing to a doll sitting inside an orb suspended from a plant hanger, "so we made sure we got her out here to oversee this production."
The fairy school is a focal point of the garden, not only due to its size, but also its complexity. In addition to the rainbow weaving factory, there's a lower level where eggs – "seeds of inspiration" – hatch into birds, which can be found throughout the garden. The structure itself includes a wood stump base and is topped by a conical roof fashioned from a metal tomato cage covered with newspaper and then sheathed in thousands of individually shellacked and applied shingles.
"We try to do as much handmade stuff as possible," Trimborn said.
The garden is a child magnet, and Trimborn welcomes them to explore it – actively. And they do.
"I'll know when kids are here, because the fairies are all in different positions, which is lovely, which is how it should be," she said. "This is meant to be more interactive."
The garden is a frequent stop for Kate Sanders and her two young children, Lucas and Naomi, who love to explore it whenever they walk past.
"It's always something that's the last hurrah on our way home," Sanders said. "They love looking at this. It's really cool."
The garden goes up every spring around Mother's Day, but is in need of a good refurbishment after a summer of heat, rain and curious kids.
"Every August they come in and they have to be revarnished and cleaned," Trimborn said.
And there's always more ideas. Thom and Shirley have been trying to put together a Rube Goldberg cave after someone dropped off a bag of used gears, but hollowing out the oak log they have for it has so far been a problem.
They'd also like to rebuild the mailbox they introduced last year, which asked kids to drop off letters, stories and pictures for the fairies. Thom would take the submissions – they got a few dozen – and scan them, keeping the originals and putting laminated copies into a book that was placed in the garden for visitors to browse.
"We got birch this time," Shirley said of the wood for the new mailbox. "It's gonna last."