Once Upon a Playground: Local Parks Built for Imaginative Play

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Fairy gardens — those little miniature villages that attract nimble creatures — are all the rage these days. Haven’t heard of them? Well, you must be living under a mushroom stool. If you have a little one that is enchanted by all things winged and magical, head to one of these fairy-dotted forests for an afternoon of whimsy and wonder. 
Photo: Annmarie Sculpture Garden via Flickr
AnnMarie Sculpture Garden and Art Center
Nestled along St. John’s Creek, this 30 acre wonderland is home to fields and forests filled with gnomes and sprites. You can play I-Spy a fairy house, with over 45 small little cottages spread across the property. Before heading out, be sure to borrow a fairy costume from the art center’s dress up trunk (or bring your own!). Then, head to The Fairy Lolly, where wee ones can play in kid-sized gnome houses, tents and more. If Snow White is a fan favorite, your dwarf-loving tyke will love The Fairy Grove Mining Company, where kids can discover fossils and gemstones. 
Cost: $3/kids ages 6-17; $5/adults; free/ kids 5 and under. 
13480 Dowell Road (Dowell, Md.)
Photo: DC Gardens via Flickr
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
These botanical gardens boast over 100 acres of lush greenery with plenty of picture-perfect spots to capture your own flighty critters (like the property’s 3 gazebos, the Korean Bell Garden, and the Lilac Pavilion). In case you didn’t know the secret to creating an inviting home for fairies, it’s flowers. Lots of pretty flowers! Next to the visitor center, you’ll find an adorable space carved out for pixies and their friends with thatched houses and teeny-tiny pebble walkways. Periodically, this park holds workshops where you can learn how to make your own enchanted woodlands.
Cost: $2.50/kids ages 7-17; $5/ adults
9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court (Vienna, Va)
Phone: 703-255-3631
Online: novaparks.com
Photo: Winterthur
This American estate is best known for its extensive collection of 90,000 pieces of art, textiles and metalwork, but the Enchanted Woods nestled on the 60 acre property, is the real draw for true fairy-enthusiasts. This 3 acre enclave features a troll bridge, a fairy cottage, a treehouse, a floral labyrinth and more. Your kids will delight in hiding in a giant bird nest or playing musical chairs with kid-sized toad stools. Winterthur is a well-worth-it two hour drive from Washington, D.C. 
Cost: $20/adults; $5/kids ages 2-11; free/kids under 2 are free.
Address: 5105 Kennett Pike (Wilmington, De)
Have you visited any of these play areas? Tell us in comments below. 
–Meghan Meyer