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How a Butterfly Garden in Laguna Beach Became the Home of the Fairies

Whether searching for pixies, writing them a note or attending a nature-themed event, the Laguna Beach Library Butterfly and Fairy Garden is a whimsical outdoor wonderland with much to offer.

Laguna Beach Library is home to a butterfly and fairy garden which was started 10 years ago by Jessica DeStefano. Photo by Ashley Ryan, Culture OC
 

Hidden in plain sight – under towering trees on the corner of Laguna Avenue and Glenneyre Street in Laguna Beach – lies a one-of-a-kind destination: the Laguna Beach Library Butterfly and Fairy Garden.


It’s difficult to convey how intriguing this slice of heaven is. On the one hand, it’s simply a lush garden filled with plants and flowers that attract pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. On the other, it’s so much more. Every twist and turn you make throughout the 1,800-square-foot plot will lead your eye to something new.


Operated by the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library, the fairy garden, as the locals call it, unlocks the child in all of us. With interactive activities, ever-changing décor, blooming flowers and special events held in its midst, this whimsical place is as eclectic as the town itself.


Jessica DeStefano with a monarch butterfly in the Laguna Beach Library Butterfly and Fairy Garden. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Laguna Beach Library
A Storied History

It’s been a decade since the garden’s creator, Jessica DeStefano, asked the Laguna Beach Library’s branch manager if she could transform a small area near the building’s entrance by planting some milkweed bushes. At the time, her plan was simply to help the endangered monarch butterfly population by incorporating its sole host plant. But, as the butterflies began to arrive en masse, DeStefano decided to add wild nectar flowers to provide them with food after they’d emerged from their chrysalises.


“I never intended to build a fairy garden, but the garden seemed to know exactly what it needed and wanted,” she says. From there, it seems, the garden took on a life of its own.


An artist through and through, DeStefano began building small fairy houses to mix in with the plants as well as stepping stones that would allow visitors to explore with ease. Children began to flock to the garden because of its beauty and, while she was thrilled with the direction things were moving in, she dreamed of making it more interactive.


Her answer was the addition of a mailbox system that would allow guests of the garden to communicate with the fairies that lived among the plants and flowers. This drew more and more visitors – not only to this outdoor haven, but to the library in general. As such, library staff embraced the project full force.


By 2021, the library was inundated with messages for the fairies. DeStefano tried her best to keep up with the messages the fairies were receiving, writing responses that were placed in a basket in the garden for children to come back and pick up, but she was also busy planting new flowers, watering everything and making the small fairy structures that are scattered throughout. She decided to pass the torch to two library volunteers, Simone Adams and Kim Shields.


Today, Adams and Shields dedicate endless time and energy toward allowing the legacy of what DeStefano created to live on in Laguna.


PHOTO 1: A model grocery store for fairies in the fairy garden at the Laguna Beach Library. PHOTO 2: A pixie statue alongside one of the houses for the fairies. PHOTO 3: The butterfly and fairy garden is located next to the entrance of the Laguna Beach Library. PHOTO 4: Spring flowers populate the garden.  PHOTO 5: This basket in the garden serves as a mailbox where children can send and receive letters from the fairies.  Photos by Ashley Ryan, Culture OC


Everyday Magic

There’s a tangible energy in the garden. Wander through and you’ll spot many different types of flowers, garden signs, fairy sculptures and more. But settle your eyes on the intricate miniature buildings that populate the space. 


In addition to houses for the fairies to “live” in, they have created spaces like a grocery store, a castle, a tent for camping, an insect hotel and a rest stop, with roughly 30 structures placed in the garden at any given time. But between foot traffic, gardening, playtime and the elements they face in the outdoor space, the houses often have to be repaired or rebuilt, a task that Adams has undertaken.


Volunteers Kim Shields, left, and Simone Adams manage the day-to-day upkeep of the butterfly and fairy garden at the Laguna Beach Library. Photo courtesy of the Laguna Beach Library Butterfly and Fairy Garden

“I was doing it with my daughter and I would add all these little details and do everything so perfectly,” she says. “And then we’d come back like two days later, and it’d been completely busted open. And it’s because little kids want to understand how things work. They want to pull apart things and find out how things work. And now, we skate that balance of having it be cute, but then also having it be durable, too.”


The intricate mail system, too, is unique, with a station set up inside the library – at a desk overlooking the garden – covered in the materials necessary for writing to the Laguna pixies. After completing a letter, children can go out into the central part of the garden and place their mail in a basket for the fairies to pick up. Adams and Shields craft responses to the children, despite receiving hundreds of messages each month. These replies can include things like poems or gifts in addition to a message, and are placed back in the basket with the child’s name on it for them to pick up the next time they visit. (Through summer, they are putting a pause on the program due to the higher number of tourists in town and will resume the project after Labor Day weekend.)


These magical moments are further enhanced by the beauty of the garden, which is filled with various styles of plants, from passion fruit vines, salvia, mint and honeysuckle to butterfly bush and milkweed. But much of this natural beauty is enhanced by intricate additions, like a sign reading “Fairies Live Here” or the floral and crystal chandelier hanging over the garden.


“People have really embraced the garden,” Adams says. “We get a lot of compliments. Whenever anyone’s working here, people walk by and say, ‘Thank you so much.’ It’s a common thread – how much they love the garden. Even if they’re not children, everybody enjoys it.”


PHOTO 1: The Wishing Tree covered in wishes during a hospitality night. PHOTO 2: Fairies helping children add wishes to the tree. PHOTO 3: A child with her wings and wand during the Butterfly and Fairy Festival. PHOTO 4  Guests in the garden during the festival. Photos courtesy of the Laguna Beach Library Butterfly and Fairy Garden


Elevated Events

Each month, Adams and Shields prepare new activities and events for children and adults alike to participate in. For June, the garden is featuring a Be Kind to Bees theme, highlighting the importance of their work for the environment. Throughout the rest of the year, forthcoming themes will touch on caterpillars and butterflies, shells and crabs, ladybugs, fairy tales, fall leaves and gratitude, and magical holiday touches. Story time inside the library sometimes aligns with these monthly themes as well, and you can visit the garden to complete easy and free activities like scavenger hunts. Special seasonal décor is also added depending on the season.


“Jessica taught us, when we were first working in the garden, to get down low and look at the garden from a child’s perspective when you’re planning it out and what that includes – planting and any of the fixtures of the garden – and that way it’s really is a magical place for the children,” Adams says.


In addition to monthly themes and seasonal décor, the Butterfly and Fairy Garden hosts a few large events, including the Butterfly and Fairy Festival, which will be held Aug. 3. An informational booth showcases the life cycle of a butterfly, which is offered alongside live music and kid-friendly crafts. “They get their wings and a copy of the fairy law and they get to either decorate a box or a wand,” Adams says. “They get things like seed packets (to take home to create their own) … butterfly gardens. It’s very sweet and very well attended – around 600 to 800 people.”


Each April, they also hold a celebration for Earth Day where they educate visitors and raise awareness about things like composting and recycling. This year, they also released 4,000 ladybugs into the garden.


Later in the year, during the city of Laguna Beach’s Hospitality Night, which brings together local residents, businesses and organizations to kick off the holiday season, the fairy garden hosts a Wishing Tree with the help of some local volunteers.


“We have some teenage girls that come dressed as fairies and they glow in the dark, and the families who are just walking by … (will write) a wish for themselves and a wish for the world on tags and then the fairies escort them over to the tree, put it on the tree for them and then grant their wishes. Then they get a little gift after,” Adams says.


The education offered outdoors transcends the garden though, as Adams, Shields and their team of volunteers also encourage learning and literacy inside the library. “We do promote having the children go in and borrow books, specifically on the monthly themes,” Adams says, “and one of the gifts that we like to give a lot are bookmarks, which is another way to encourage them to go inside, borrow books and read.”

Laguna Beach Library Butterfly and Fairy Garden

When: Ongoing; this year’s Butterfly and Fairy Festival is Aug. 3 at noon 

Where: Laguna Beach Library, 363 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach

Cost: Free to visit 

Contact: instagram.com/lagunabeachfairygarden



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