Some of my fern favourites

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING - BY DIARMUID GAVIN

Adozen years ago I moved from the hus­tle of Lon­don’s Portobello Road — where I had a stu­dio around the cor­ner from Hugh Grant’s fa­mous Not­ting Hill blue door — to some­where com­pletely dif­fer­ent, the coun­try­side of Wick­low.

The daily grind changed from deal­ing with hun­dreds of peo­ple bump­ing into each other in nar­row streets, from the shouts of bar­row boys sell­ing their veg­eta­bles and cheap fash­ion, to walks with the dogs in din­g­ley dells, from noise to si­lence, from con­crete to green. And much of that green was pro­vided by the car­pet of growth un­der­neath de­cid­u­ous wood­lands — plan­ta­tions of ferns thriv­ing in these misty isles’ per­fect con­di­tions. I’ve al­ways loved ferns and use them ex­ten­sively in my gar­den — from mini forests of the out­door mon­ster Dick­so­nia antarc­tica to a num­ber of dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties un­der my birch trees in the front gar­den.

Noth­ing evokes the for­est floor more than a group of ferns. They can be de­cid­u­ous, which gives you the added bonus of the fresh green fronds emerg­ing in spring, or ever­green, which gives a com­pan­ion­able feel over the win­ter months. They like shade or dap­pled light and moist, hu­mus rich soil. Out­side the tra­di­tional shady or wood­land gar­den, ferns are per­fect to mix in a small bor­der and bring drama to a small court­yard. A good con­tainer will help show off the in­di­vid­ual beauty of some of the species.

Look­ing after them isn’t too hard. Give them the right soil con­di­tions, with lots of or­ganic mat­ter and mois­ture. In de­cid­u­ous forms you just let the fo­liage die back and cover the base of the plant — this helps pro­tect them over win­ter. Some will need a bit more pro­tec­tion, so use hor­ti­cul­tural fleece or a lit­tle mound of or­ganic mat­ter.

With ever­green ferns, just tidy up the fo­liage through­out the year. Be care­ful when cut­ting back fo­liage in spring, as it’s very easy to snip off the fid­dle­heads of emerg­ing new fronds. Ferns pair well with other wood­land species such as spring bulbs — Anemone ne­merosa and cro­cus spring to mind — and nes­tle nicely among fox­gloves and aqui­le­gias.

Their love of hu­mid­ity makes them per­fect for bot­tle gar­dens or ter­rar­i­ums, which are un­der­go­ing a big re­vival at the mo­ment. So, if you don’t have the out­door spa­ces, con­sider grow­ing some ten­der spec­i­mens such as the beau­ti­ful Maiden­hair fern in a bot­tle in­doors. Dick­so­nia antarc­tica My favourite. The ma­jes­tic tree fern has enor­mous pres­ence with its glo­ri­ous arch­ing lacy green fronds that con­trast so strongly with its stout, fi­brous brown trunk. It’s hardy in tem­per­ate cli­mates, but may need some pro­tec­tion when young or newly planted, so choose a slightly shel­tered site to be safe. Stuff straw into the crown to pro­tect fronds from frost. Mat­teuc­cia struthiopteris (Shut­tle­cock Fern) Clothed in the bright­est of bright green, the emerg­ing spring fronds are a de­light to be­hold. Growth starts off closed tight and up­right, then gen­tly opens up in the shape of a shut­tle­cock. It holds this form bet­ter than many other ferns and looks so good in groups. Wood­war­dia unigem­mata (Jewelled Chain Fern) A par­tic­u­larly won­der­ful spec­i­men from east Asia. Su­perb arch­ing fronds that can reach up to two me­tres in length emerge, at first red­dish in colour, turn­ing to green in ma­tu­rity. It likes a damp soil in the shade and I would rec­om­mend cov­er­ing the crown with some mulch in win­ter if you are in colder north­ern re­gions. Athry­ium nipon­icum pic­tum This del­i­cate de­cid­u­ous fern is known as the painted lady and brings a splash of jewel-like bright­ness to the shady gar­den. Grow­ing only 8-12 inches high, it will slowly spread out to cre­ate a pretty car­pet. The leaves have metal­lic pale green and pur­ple hues, darker to­wards the mid-rib. ‘Sil­ver falls’ is even more pre­cious with its sil­ver white leaves. Polystichum setiferum An ever­green for deep shade, although it also likes par­tial shade and will tol­er­ate dry, though not bone dry, soil. Tight lacy fronds ex­tend from the cen­tre and reach up to four feet at ma­tu­rity. As­ple­nium nidus One of the eas­i­est ferns for in­doors. Bright green straps of ever­green fo­liage un­fold from a cen­tral ‘nest’. Will do well in north-fac­ing rooms. Spray with fine mist to main­tain hu­mid­ity in cen­trally heated rooms or lo­cate in steamy bath­rooms or kitchens. Os­munda re­galis A re­gal fern de­serv­ing of the name ‘Royal Fern’. Beau­ti­ful, with arch­ing stems from the base, it’s a ro­bust fern, hap­pi­est in dap­pled shade and lik­ing acid soil. It can grow up to five feet and needs lots of mois­ture to keep it happy. Dy­opteris ery­throsora Known as the au­tumn fern, thanks to the beau­ti­ful pink and red tints as it un­furls its fo­liage in spring; these then ma­ture to green. It’s a semi-ever­green, so will re­tain much of its fo­liage through win­ter. It likes to be in moist shade.

GREEN GLORY: the fern Dick­so­nia antarc­tica

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