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Keepers of the Fairy and Butterfly Garden carry on its enchanting legacy

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For the past two years, an amazing band of garden keepers – Ellis Adams, Rebecca Maessen, Phina Torbensen, Wayne Lawrence, Allison Adams and Jenece Pritchard – led by Kim Shields and Simone Adams – have kept the legacy of the Laguna Beach Library fairy and butterfly garden alive. Dedicated to honoring Jessica deStefano, the founding fairy godmother, the group diligently works to keep her bewitching gift flourishing.

One day eight years ago, the librarian at Laguna Beach Library looked out the window to see a woman tending the unkempt garden in front of the library entrance. As was her way, deStefano didn’t announce herself as the garden rescuer, she merely saw a need and got busy. 

keepers of group

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(L-R) Back row: Wayne Lawrence, Rebecca Maessen, Jenece Pritchard, Kim Shields, Simone Adams, Allison Adams; Front row: Thor Torbensen, Phina Torbensen, Ellis Adams

That was just the beginning. In the ensuing years, deStefano transformed the space into a magical fairy garden, lush with plants and vibrant flowers and populated with a neighborhood of fairy houses and butterflies.

To use a gardening term, her “roots” to the community run deep. She is the granddaughter of Percy Wise Clarkson, who in the 1930s moved to Laguna and built the St. Francis by the Sea Catholic Church from tiles taken from the ruins left by the Long Beach earthquake of 1933.

Feeling an affinity for the scenic community where she had lived part of

her childhood, deStefano returned here to live in 2000. Her spirituality is part

and parcel of her art, reflected in some way in nearly everything she does.

An artist and creator of small sculptures and figurines, deStefano exhibits on the East Coast as well as Laguna and although she has retired from tending the garden, she is consulted about seeding and other planting matters. 

How does your garden grow?

During COVID, Shields came upon deStefano working in the garden and asked if she needed help. As a result, Shields started her own garden in 2020.

“I trained slowly with Jessica, especially on how to look at the garden from a kid’s perspective,” Shields said. 

keepers of Thor

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Thor Torbensen plays in the garden

Wayne Lawrence trims the plants and makes tunnels for the visitors.

Pritchard, who has been helping for a month, is the “rookie” volunteer. “I admired the garden and then saw Kim and Simone working in it and asked if I could help,” she said.

Quite possibility the only fairy and butterfly garden of its kind, it’s no surprise that the space attracts a great deal of attention. Shields calls it, “a slice of heaven.”

“Ellis has been into fairies on her own as a kid,” said her mom, Simone. “When we moved here, I read about the garden and we wanted to volunteer.” Ellis is a sophomore at JSerra Catholic High School, a singer and part of a rock band and a Laguna Beach Girl Scout.

Simone Adams and Shields, who schedule and manage the volunteers, share a passion for the garden, and they have steadily built a team that is devoted to keeping the garden thriving, although Shields said, “Simone pretty much does everything.”

The volunteers have been constructing and refurbishing the fairy houses (visitors also donate objects for the garden) and learning how to seed. “There’s a lot of criteria for what we choose to plant,” said Simone. “The majority of the plants are pollinators and drought tolerant. We don’t waste water.” 

keepers of insect hotel

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Insect hotel

Always with an eye on nature

“Jessica’s vision was to really focus on nature and that’s been very successful,” Simone continued.

The garden themes and educational programs are usually nature related: bees in June, caterpillars and butterflies in July and August and lady bugs in September.

On Thursday, July 28, the group hosted a summer reading program about butterflies and at the end of the program, the children came out to the garden and cleaned up the fallen leaves.

They also presented a program for Earth Day and on Saturday, July 30, a hundred children attended their event which included “make-your-own” magic wands and fairy wings, fairies, music and much more.

Favorite moments

Shields recalled her favorite moments: “I think one of my favorite moments in the garden, (other than every time I worked with Jessica) was seeing my first butterfly chrysalis. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! Nature is such a wonderful teacher.”

She admitted that there were some funny stories as well.

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“A little girl asked me ‘Who are you?’ I thought it was hilarious, because most kids look at us like, ‘Why are you in my garden?’ Everyone considers it theirs, which it is. Also, recently I was picking up leaves with Mary’s (Hurlbut) grandson. I looked in his paper bag to see how many leaves he had collected. He had a lot, so I said, ‘What the heck!’ He nicely told me that ‘heck’ was a swear word and that I shouldn’t talk like that in the garden. It was the cutest thing ever and I haven’t said ‘heck’ in the garden since!” 

keepers of letter fairy house

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Visitors leave questions in the fairy house

Both Simone and Ellis agree that their favorite memory of the fairy garden was the “Wishing Tree” at Hospitality Night 2021, where 400 wishes were granted.

“Ellis and her friend Imogen were decked out in fairy costumes that were covered in little twinkling lights,” Simone said. “At the event, each child wrote a wish for themselves and a wish for the world on tags and then the fairies escorted the children from the front of the library to the wishing tree. The tags were tied to the tree and then the girls granted the children’s wishes with a flick of their wands. All of the patrons received little gifts or mementos when they returned from the tree. It was really fun!”

“My fondest memory of working in the garden is looking up to see Jessica showing my daughter around, while telling her stories about the fairies and encouraging her to help sweep the stepping stone,” said Rebecca Maessen. “As a parent, I’m so grateful for the beautiful imaginative fairy world she created that has brought endless curiosity, inspiration and excitement to my family.”

Busy fairies

Seldom idle, the fairies are constantly busy answering letters visitors leave in the fairy house. Every note is answered and fairies Lavender and Dew Drop are especially industrious. They receive 25 letters per week in the winter and in the June and July, they get 80-85 a week, so it’s understandable that they need to take August off to rest up.

The response letters are also nature themed. In June, the letters included little packets of honey. The children’s questions cover a wide variety of topics: “What do fairies eat and drink? or “Can I have a puppy?”

keepers of carry letters

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Every letter is answered and can be retrieved in the garden

“As the garden gets bigger, I feel more a part of it,” said Shields. “It’s an inspiration, and we get great ideas from the community.”

“The garden seems to attract the people it needs to flourish,” Simone said.

“We always need hard-working volunteers who are committed and feel the connection to fairies.”

Whether one believes in fairies or not, their myths and fables have been around for centuries. The label of fairy applied to specific beguiling creatures with human appearance, mystic powers and a penchant for trickery. Fairy has at times been used as an adjective, with a meaning equivalent to “enchanted” or “magical.” It is also used as a name for the place these beings come from, the land of Fairy.

Standing in the midst of the library’s carefully curated land of Fairy, it’s impossible not to feel the magic.

Follow them on Instagram (it’s brand new) @lagunabeachfairygarden.

The Laguna Beach Library is located at 363 Glenneyre St. For more information, call 949.497.1733.