Kelly Kenney was taking a nightly stroll this spring to clear her mind in her Los Angeles neighborhood when a brightly colored pinwheel caught her eye. She stopped and looked at an ornate fairytale garden at the foot of a tree with painted stones and tiny pieces of jewelry.
Pinned to the tree was a Polaroid picture of the garden’s creator, a young girl named Eliana, and a poem in a medieval-looking storybook font that told her neighbors how to use the garden: “Our 4 year old girl did this Brighten your day / Please add the magic, but don’t take it away / These days can be difficult, but we’re in it together / So enjoy our fairytale garden and some nicer weather. “
Ms. Kenney slipped into a plan and left a note in the garden the next evening pretending to be a fairy named Sapphire after Ms. Kenney’s birthstone found her home in the tree in September. She promised to leave glittering magical resin cubes (a pandemic hobby for Ms. Kenney) when Eliana did three tasks she listed etched in kindness. And the next day they were done.
The note sparked a friendship linked to the fairy tale garden that would weather some of the darkest months of the pandemic and hardship of 2020 for a little girl and her adult neighbor. Ms. Kenney recorded the experience on an extremely popular Twitter thread this month.
“I felt like when I found it right away, the whole family was trapped in my heart,” said Ms. Kenney, a photographer, of the fairy tale garden. “I was so alone physically and mentally at the time and felt like kindred spirits.”
Eliana laid out the fairy garden on April 28th using materials from her grandmother. The garden began with fairytale doors on the tree, a few fairies and a gnome. It grew with contributions from neighbors, like a tiny purple vanity with a quote from “The Lord of the Rings” inside, said Eliana’s mother, Emily Pauls.
Ms. Kenney found a new purpose when she went through a rough break up orchestrating elaborate notes and photographing herself as a little fairy next to her cat Nova. She gave Eliana’s parents her phone number to reassure them as the letters became more frequent.
She wondered if they should leave inventive gift boxes with the goal of making each one better than the last. Ms. Kenney took advantage of what she loved as a child and wrote Ms. Pauls for help.
Mrs. Kenney gave Eliana a stuffed pig and a goat; a pop-up version of one of her favorite childhood books, “The Little Prince”; and Crayola markers with paper so that Eliana no longer runs out of copy paper from her parents when she draws.
As a child, Ms. Kenney said, she was bullied for manifesting her creative personality. She felt ashamed, and only later in life, with the support of her uncle, did she return to her imaginative side.
When Ms. Kenney discovered that she and Eliana had similar personalities, she wanted to nurture Eliana’s creative inspiration and make a positive impact on what she’d lacked growing up.
Eliana’s parents found that she had changed in the past nine months as well. Sapphire’s encouragement made her more resourceful and friendly at a time when she needed a role model as the pandemic halted her preschool year.
Ms. Kenney encouraged Eliana to write stories, which led to “Sapphire the Explorer”. It contained illustrations and a song that only fairies can sing (and read). Mrs. Pauls helped with the punctuation and turned her text into pages.
Eliana often thought of Sapphire and wrote to her about what fairy skin felt like and what Sapphire owned. Ms. Pauls said Eliana would pick up items like a rock and think about how Sapphire could use it as a table, or dream about how to catch the fairy.
“She had never seen me before, but this relationship we have is definitely love,” Ms. Kenney said of Eliana. “She’s just as magical to me.”
Then the adventure ran into a conspiracy. Ms. Pauls let Ms. Kenney know in mid-November that they had closed a house in south Los Angeles and were moving from the west side, with the neighbors taking care of the fairy tale garden.
Ms. Pauls asked Ms. Kenney to help Eliana, who was having trouble coping with the move. Ms. Kenney told Eliana in a letter that she would also move from the garden to a larger tree for Sapphire and her growing cat.
“Sometimes we grow out of houses because we have too much love and need a place to hold it all,” Ms. Kenney wrote. “But it’s so much fun to find new trees and imagine what new adventures are in store for us!”
Eliana’s mother and Mrs. Kenney were about to meet when the family said goodbye to their neighborhood on December 11th. Ms. Kenney and Eliana’s parents had been tested for the coronavirus days beforehand to make sure the visit was safe. In another letter, Mrs. Kenney Eliana hinted that she would come for her last belongings and that fairies become human when they move.
Mrs. Kenney was dressed with character and had pointy fairy ears. She walked up to the tree and, as she rummaged around in the garden, pretended to look startled by Eliana. But Eliana was the one who was stunned and overwhelmed with emotion. Ms. Kenney crouched down and they began to talk about Nova the cat and life as a fairy.
“Every time it was always this sweet, sweet moment in which I felt so strangely familiar to the stranger,” said Mrs. Pauls of the letters. “All of this exchange has made her family in a way. It’s a really unexpected way to make a friend. “
Ms. Kenney continues to teach Eliana the magic through letters and video chats. But there is more to discover when Eliana creates another fairy tale garden in her new home and hopefully another fairy moves in.