Scenery Hill fairy garden trail sparks creativity

June 17, 2016 | egAdmin comments

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The constant high-pitched hum of cicadas fills the forest at Robison Acres in Scenery Hill, Washington County. But don’t tell that to the scores of children exploring the fairy garden trail. They prefer to think it’s the sound of pixies and sprites flying from branch to branch in the woods.

Asa Foulke, 14, is being the ultimate good big brother, holding hands with his sister Atiya, 9, as they carefully examine each of the tiny displays that dot the trail. He helps his other sister, Ailsa, 11, with spelling as she writes a letter to the fairies, leaving it in a mailbox along the trail.

“It makes it seem like it’s real,” Ailsa says. “Like there are actually fairies living in the woods.”

The three come here annually from Bethel Park, enjoying the many little fairy gardens and getting ideas, too.

“It’s just really nice to be able to look at all these fairy gardens that someone else has made and get inspired by them. We like to make them at our house,” Asa says.

Ailsa points to something she sees along the trail and the three laugh together.

“It’s almost like you’re a giant walking in a fairy’s world,” she says.

Betty and John Robison built the trail through the woods of their small nursery and wild plant sanctuary in 2010. They sell lots of heirloom tomato plants, native perennials and more. The gardening business is something they started as a way to prepare for retirement.

Betty Robison, who works as a nurse and educator at the UPMC Aging Institute and is a Penn State-trained master gardener, stresses to her customers the importance of organic growing practices. “I think it comes first and foremost from my background as a nurse for 43 years. When you’re using chemicals, your skin absorbs them, and they can be carcinogenic,” she says.

The gardens around their house are packed with a wide variety of pretty blooming plants. While sitting on her back porch, bluebirds perch atop colorfully painted birdhouses, and the distinctive high-pitched chirps of hummingbirds fill the air as they compete for time at the feeders.

The couple counted 112 bats living in the bat house that hangs at the edge of the forest. That’s more than double the number that lived there last year.

The fairy garden came out of Betty Robison’s work with seniors, looking for ways for them to enjoy gardening, but also from her own childhood.

“I grew up in a garden,” she says. “I was always picking strawberries and playing in the flowers, so I just want to pass it on. I just like to see kids outside; I think it’s good for them.”

The visiting children search for the little details of each display. A miniature swing hangs from thin branches and a little rope ladder reveals to kids how the fairies climb into a gazebo sitting on top of a stump. The children let their imaginations run wild as they crouch on the ground to play with the fairies on display.

Robison smiles as she watches them spend an hour exploring the garden. She asks friends and family for only one thing when it comes to giving gifts.

“Fairy things, even for my anniversary,” she says with a laugh.

“I like fairy stuff, because we have to add a little bit every year and we’re thinking of making (the trail) longer. Sometimes I feel like a big kid when I’m putting it together.”

She’ll tell the children stories before they are released onto the trail, and oftentimes they go to the trailhead gingerly, as though a fairy might fly by.

“I tell the children that they can see the glitter trail that was left by fairies as they were going to school,” she says, smiling. “They get a big kick out of that.”

At the end of the day, she opens the mailbox to read the notes written by children to the fairies.

“I was totally blown away with one message a little girl left for me,” Robison says. “It said, ‘Please bring this place good luck.’ It took my breath away when I read that. It brought tears to my eyes.”


Doug Oster is the Tribune-Review home and garden editor. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at