Meet Siobhan and the Garden Fairies.
In 1998, Siobhan Nehin and two girlfriends (Barbara and Ruth) tapped into their common passion for digging in the dirt to create a garden from scratch for Barbara’s new home. It was a huge undertaking and they needed more help to finish the project. Other friends who loved gardening, and some who had artistic abilities like painting and mosaic making, joined the three. Soon their group was 25 strong and they needed a name; they became the Garden Fairies (GF). From that humble grassroots beginning, the group now numbers more than 500 in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area. The creative co-op of GFs devote their time, energy and talents to a variety of projects.
The Gift of the Garden Program
The GFs help gardeners who can no longer maintain their gardens due to physical limitations. In the first project of the program, they helped Mable, a lifelong gardener who was in her 70s but had to stop gardening because of a severe case of osteoporosis. Seventy-five volunteer GFs restored Mable’s overgrown garden into a sanctuary of beauty. Visit wedigdoinit.com for a photo history and more information about the program.
The Front Porch Project
The Front Porch Community Courtyard Garden and Outdoor Classroom sits on a site where a riot occurred in the late ’90s. The project received $200,000 from the state and the GFs donated labor and materials valued at $155,000.
The neighborhood where the Front Porch Garden exists was in decline and the garden now benefits everyone in the community. Besides giving kids a place to spend constructive time with an emphasis on teaching them about art and gardening, a variety of other events take place in the garden. The surrounding area buzzes with activity from Mom-and-Pop retail shops that bring additional traffic into the beautifully landscaped space.
Siobhan designed the layout of the Front Porch Garden, painted the mural and planted some of the landscape areas. She also taught gardening and art sessions for children at the spring and summer camps that took place at the garden. She did receive some compensation for these projects, but did so at a reduced rate from her regular for-hire fees.
She also led the all-volunteer effort that transformed the garden, which efforts included a combo of Garden Fairies and work-release prisoners. Some of the prisoners had former gardening experience and were a great help with the heavy-lifting projects (like shoveling tons of crushed shell in the pathways).
What the Garden Fairies did for the garden:
- Transformation of a used and stained fountain into a colorful mixed-media piece—a stained glass mosaic and decorative painting.
- Created a mosaic patio featuring Florida flora and fauna.
- Transformed of a gazebo from a weathered structure to a focal point, painted to match other elements of the garden.
- Installed shade structures and picked up furniture.
- Laid out garden beds in the Front Porch Outdoor Classroom.
- Held a fundraiser for materials; donated artwork to fundraiser.
- Launched a public relations effort to get media coverage for the project.
Become a Garden Fairy
Siobhan says, “If you want to start a GF chapter in your neighborhood just email me: snehin (at) mac.com. We’d love to visit other GF chapters! And even if you don’t start a GF chapter, get out there and dig! You’ll feel better and be rewarded in so many ways. Consider diggin’ with your friends; it’s a way to sow great friendships.”