Her title has changed over the years but not her enchanting presence.
Dressed in a frilly pink dress, a tiara and large purple wings, Annie Horton visited with child after child, offering praise and encouragement in a soft, gentle voice.
Playing the role as fairy godmother at the “Meerkerk Magic” children’s event seemed to flow as naturally for Horton as the gentle breeze that was felt at Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank on a sunny Saturday.
“I haven’t granted any wishes today yet,” Horton said. “It’s been done and they’ve come true.”
No magical intervention was needed to create happiness for the dozens of children who arrived for the annual event.
“Ever since I heard about this, I really wanted to come here,” said Ciandra Allen, 8, of Coupeville.
They came to build fairy dolls out of materials gathered by event organizer Arlee Anderson and others on the vast woodland gardens’ grounds. And children were engrossed in the project from the start.
That is, whenever they could pry the glue gun out of the hands of their mothers or fathers.
“Sometimes, parents are the ones making the fairies,” Horton said.
Horton, who has a background in children’s theater, has been entertaining kids at Meerkerk Magic ever since the event started 20 years ago. A resident of Greenbank, she first spread her wings as the fairy princess.
“It is a magical place,” Horton said. “You don’t need to wear wings. It’s a special spot on the island. It really is. It has been for as long as I’ve been here.”
Located on 53 acres of woodland gardens and forest preserve, Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens was founded by Ann and Max Meerkerk in the early 1960s. The property was bequeathed to the Seattle Rhododendron Society in 1979 and now serves as non-profit organization open to the public with emphasis on educating youth and research to develop new hybrid rhododendrons.
On Saturday, it was a place for children to let their imaginations run wild.
They glued together poppy seed pods, pine cones, dried leaves, moss and other forest and garden debris to build fairy dolls and other creations.
Finn Tyler, 7, of Clinton made a dragon with red eyes.
“I’m glad to see the boys are coming and making their fairy men,” Horton said. “Finn’s drag is absolutely excellent.”
Meerkerk hosts several programs for elementary-school aged children and is now gearing up for “Botany Adventure Tours” in May and early June. That program teaches third-through-fifth graders on the island about pollinators, plant parts, conservation and ecology. Anderson, who runs the program, is looking for volunteers to help.
“We look for bees and other ways of pollination, the wind, the ants, the beetles, and how important that is,” Anderson said.
A popular event that draws children is the Fairy House Festival July 5 when fairy houses are built.
A big draw for adults is the nursery where several varieties of rhododendrons are sold. The nursery is open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.
Admission to the gardens is $5 for adults; kids under 16 are free when accompanied by an adult.
For more information about Meerkerk Gardens, go to meerkerkgardens.org
If you go to any Meerkerk event and see Horton in her fairy godmother attire, watch out for her wand.
Horton remembers granting a wish to a young Whidbey Island woman in the mid 1990s in the early years of Meerkerk Magic.
She had approached Horton and asked her if she would grant her a wish.
“I put my wand on her heart, which is how you do it, and I looked at her because you look at each other and you think your wish,” Horton said. “You never say it out loud. It’s nobody else’s business.
“She thought her wish and I looked at her and said, ‘Oh yes,’ and she said, ‘Oh, thank you.’”
Although Horton won’t reveal exactly what was wished, she did say that the woman was pleasantly surprised by the result of an early pregnancy test she took.
Her wish, a girl named Olivia, is now 18 years old, Horton said.