COLIN MACLEAN JOURNAL PIONEER email@example.com @JournalPEI
SUMMERSIDE — As a little girl, Bernadette Kernaghan did her best to make friends with the fairy-folk. She came from a large Irish Catholic family, so folklore of leprechauns, mermaids and similar otherworldly people were prevalent at home. The idea of little people with magical powers living in a hidden naturalistic world stimulated the imagination of a child who was already predisposed to whimsy and artistry. Her family had an ancient oak tree with a hollow in it and Kernaghan remembers building a little home for the fey (another world for fairies) inside. She and her friends would act out the fantastical stories of their elders and make small gifts and offerings to leave in the tree. Some legends say the fey are easily offended and can turn tricksy and cruel if proper respect is not shown and appeasements offered. “I’ve had fanciful ideas all my life,” reflected Kernaghan from her garden swing one recent sunny morning. Today, she and her husband Eddy Schwartz live on Spring Street in Summerside. They’ve been there for seven years, having retired (she was an art teacher) and moved from B.C. intending to live out their lives by the ocean. Though they were born elsewhere, their souls have found peace here. They are both artists, working in various mediums. Kernaghan is primarily a painter but, when the mood strikes, she creates threedimensional art. Driftwood is a favourite material. She has crafted an animalistic totem for her garden with bits scavenged at the beach, for example. Much of what she creates revolves around nature and her garden, which she’s come to regard as a public art display of sorts. With Summerside Intermediate School and Parkside Elementary just around the corner, the sidewalk next to her garden is a busy thoroughfare for families and children. Kernaghan likes to create things they can see as they pass by and sometimes invites interested folks onto her property for a closer look. Those who are lucky enough for such a visit will find that Kernaghan is continuing her family’s tradition of trying to keep on the good side of the fey. Look closely and there is a door into a tree, framed with an arch of gnarled driftwood. Strung between two twigs and fluttering in the breeze is a line of elf-sized clothing. Under some greenery is a chessboard and pieces sized for a mouse. A font, too small for even a hummingbird to sip from, is perched amongst bits of old weathered coloured glass. Some of the fey, whose likenesses Kernaghan has sculpted, can even be found in a little home she has built for them at the base of the tree. “It was an organic process; I have to say. Artist’s impulse, clearly and simply,” she said. Fairy gardening is a trend that has been increasingly in vogue among green thumbs in recent years. The idea is to create a display sized for the tiny magical fey people, often using a mix of natural and artificial decorations. Worldwide there is a huge community of fairy gardeners connected via the internet. Ohio even has its own Fairy Gardening Festival, which was profiled by the New York Times in 2018. Kernaghan has been building and adding to her fairy garden for about a year. She sees it as a way to connect with her heritage and nature while bringing a little lightheartedness into her corner of the world. “It’s a compulsion,” she reasoned. “I don’t want to just endure life; I want to enjoy it ... so, it’s the idea that a little whimsy and a little magic are really important to make you feel alive and enjoy life.” True to her childhood tendency, Kernaghan occasionally leaves small offerings around for the fairies. It’s her way of asking for their help in keeping her garden healthy and productive. She is not alone in this ritual. Friends often stop to leave their own gifts at the base of her fairy tree. A small figurine here. A quartz crystal there. A few painted river stones. It’s not uncommon for her to find things she’s never noticed before. Kernaghan has taken a break lately from adding to her fairy garden. It was starting to spread, so she’s letting the sprites amuse themselves with what they’ve got, for the moment. She still enjoys showing her display to visitors though and may eventually add to it again. Whatever she’s doing it is apparently working. Her garden is a green oasis, full of berries, vegetables and a myriad of flowers.