Fairy tree brings whimsy and smiles to Evanston neighborhood


Jonah Elkowitz/The Daily Northwestern

This fairy tree on Orrington Ave is covered with artwork, figurines and decorative ornaments.

Zella Milfred, Reporter

As the last bell rings at Orrington Elementary School, crowds of kids begin their walks home through the neighborhood. A young girl with round glasses and a big smile zooms by on a scooter and shouts, “That’s where the fairies live!”

She is looking at an elaborately decorated tree located at 2608 Orrington Ave., just a few blocks from Northwestern’s campus. Shelley Tench, who owns the Orrington home, calls it a “fairy tree.”

This whimsical neighborhood attraction is decorated with fairy figurines, ornaments and miniature furniture. A sign reads “stay, play, take something, leave something.” Passersby continuously add trinkets and art projects around the trunk.

Tench, an Evanston resident since 1998, began decorating the tree in 2017 after a trip to Ireland. The country is known to have fairy trees dotting its countryside, often inspired by folklore stories.

“I always try to incorporate something that I’ve seen on my travels back into the house, just so that it’s kind of like a little memory for me,” Tench said. 

She began decorating the tree with a single item –– a fairy looking down from one of the leafy branches –– and has been adding to it ever since. Her four kids grew up helping change the decorations seasonally. 

Five years later, the tree is covered with shelves holding gnomes and miniature houses. Mini toy trailer campers are parked next to the trunk, and neighborhood kids drop off painted rocks. Lights are strung up in the branches to shine at night, and a chime blows in the wind.

Tench said she hopes the tree compels people to take a moment in their day to pause and smile.

“It’s not just for kids… it’s for adults, too,” she said. “They disconnect from whatever might be going on in their life, and they just zone out and have a nice time there.”

Tench said she often receives positive feedback about the tree and sees people taking pictures. A woman walking by once told her that seeing a sign on the tree that read “Be You” completely turned her day around for the better.

“It’s a fantastic addition to the neighborhood,” neighbor Kiera Madden said. “I just remember seeing it during COVID, and it brightened everybody’s vibe. We all did a lot of walking around as a family, and it brought smiles to our faces.”

Tench has also included interactive elements to engage the community and bring the space to life. She laminates drawings that kids tape to the tree to protect them from rain, and she’s responded to notes from children asking the fairies questions. 

She once left out a stash of Matchbox cars with a sign announcing the fairies were having a car sale.

Communication sophomore Ellie Dillenburg said she sees the tree on walks. The fairy tree brings back childhood memories of building fairy houses in a tree stump on her grandparents’ property, she said. 

“Sometimes in nice neighborhoods people can get too caught up with everything looking perfect, but then it’s not fun anymore,” Dillenburg said. “I think it’s better to spark joy than to make sure everything looks perfect.”

Dillenburg said she recommends other NU students take a walk to the tree to explore a new part of Evanston.

“Take a selfie with it,” Dillenburg said. “It’ll be fun!”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @ZMilfred

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