The Fairy Ring


SARA WILSON was formerly on the staff of the Baltimore Evening Sun. She now lives in Sarasota, Florida. This is her first appearance in the Atlantic.

THERE’S a fairy ring at the bottom of my garden, and I thought for a while I’d have to blast it out of there.

It’s a dense dark-green circular patch of grass, neatly bordered with white toadstools five or six inches high. The first circle, about five feet in diameter, appeared six months ago.

In any other locality it would be an attraction — an emerald-and-white bed in the center of a jade-green lawn. But here in Sarasota, Florida, such a patch is a disgrace: people are known by the grass they keep. And that grass is supposed to be a thick, springy carpet of perfection the year round. Winter and summer, through rainy season and drought, our lawn was beyond criticism and above reproach until the fairy ring appeared.

The yard man identified it for me on the weekly visit he makes to inspect the property. “It’s a fairy ring,” he said. “They tell me the fairies dance there at midnight.”

“What can we do about it?”

“Move away,” he said quietly. “Git yourselves a new yard someplace else.”

None of the gardening books on the shelf had any information on the subject, but the good old Encyclopædia Britannica gave a whole paragraph to it in Volume Nine (EXTR to GAMB).

Then I called in a nurseryman who is an expert on tropical gardening. “Fairy ring nothing,” he said. “It’s fungus. The grass inside the circle grows thicker and darker than the

rest of the lawn because of the nitrogen released by the decaying fungus. Spray it with copper.”

That seemed easy enough. I mixed the copper spray and gave the circle a good dousing. Then, to keep the lawn tidy, I kicked over every one of the giant white toadstools, to the shrieks of my six-year-old daughter Ann who wanted them left in place.

“You’re doing a terrible thing,” she told me between howls. “The fairies need those toadstools for umbrellas when it rains. They’ll be so upset . . .”

“Oh, I guess if there really were such things as fairies they would have the magic to grow more when they needed them,” I said, absentmindedly.

“ They have the magic to do more than that,” she said darkly. “Just wait and you’ll see.”

I waited. And I did see. The copper-sprayed circle, abandoned by fairies or fungus, turned the bright yellow of ripe wheat as the grass withered and died. Two new rings appeared at the right and left corners of the yard.

This time the nurseryman prescribed copper for the whole lawn. He sent out a crew of four men on a spray truck with long hose attachments. One man drove the truck. One guided the hose. The other two watched carefully. By the time I paid off the watchers and the workers the sunlight glinted with a metallic sheen on every blade of grass in the yard.

Then the fairies really got mad. After waiting a week to heighten the suspense, they held the grand ball of the season. Fifteen small patches of dark-green grass, each patch outlined with white toadstools, appeared.

“What can I do?” I asked my child in desperation. After all, at her age she is far better acquainted with the Little Folk than I am.

“Don’t do anything,”she said. “ You’ve bothered them enough. You knocked down the nice big circle they used to have, and that made them have to fix little circles all over the place.”

Friends and neighbors were generous with advice of miracles that might be wrought with a few hundred pounds of fertilizer, a few tons of topsoil, and an infrared lamp. One of the more serious garden club members gently reminded me that, since the lawn was planted ten years ago, the turf is worn out anyway. The whole lawn should be resodded, he said.

My daughter Ann shook her head. “Leave the fairies alone,” she said.

I’ve left them alone. Gradually the fifteen small circles of emerald grass browned off, the toadstools toppled over; and as time went on, the new turf grew back in the soft restful green that Sarasota sod is supposed to be. Except in one place: the big circle where it all started. Within that circle the grass once more is dark and glossy; the white toadstools are larger and more numerous than ever. I counted seventy-eight this morning.

Our neighbors’ lawns on either side and across the street are more luxuriant than ours ever was. We are hoping the fairies will notice this and move. We never invite friends over during the daylight hours any more.

After the third highball, my husband was foolish enough to tell some friends who stopped by the other night about the fairy ballroom on the lawn. We discovered sadly that while nearly all the grown people we know believe easily in flying saucers and little men from Mars, practically nobody—except us — believes in fairies.

We truly live in a child’s world. Ann’s friends spend hours on the lawn, spinning stories about the enchanted circle. Being a practical child, she charges a nickel admission to any friend who wants to step beyond the toadstools into the magic ring where the fairies have trod. She has collected fifty-five cents already.