In­tro­duced here 200 years ago, tree ferns are a great way to go sub-trop­i­cal in the UK

Gloucestershire Echo - - YOUR GARDEN - With Diar­muid Gavin

SOME­TIMES it’s good to reap­praise plant­ing trends many years af­ter their in­tro­duc­tion. I was in­volved in the pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion of Dick­so­nia antarc­tica, that amaz­ing Tas­ma­nian tree fern which sprung up on makeover shows, mag­a­zines and books about 20 years ago. And now I’m en­joy­ing them in my very own gar­den. There’s noth­ing new about tree ferns – they’ve been grown on these is­lands for more than 200 years, hav­ing been first in­tro­duced from Aus­tralia in 1786 when they were col­lected by plant hunters and sent back to Kew. Their in­tro­duc­tion to gar­dens may have been ac­ci­den­tal, how­ever. Their trunks were used as bal­last for car­goes dur­ing long sea jour­neys in the 19th cen­tury. When the ships were un­loaded at docks, some of these dis­carded trunks re­sprouted and so were taken away to be re­planted in gar­dens. Mag­nif­i­cent ex­am­ples can be found in Cor­nish gar­dens such as Heli­gan, Treng­wain­ton and Trewid­den. What was dif­fer­ent in the early 2000s was their use in subur­ban gar­dens and their widespread availabili­ty in gar­den cen­tres and else­where. There was an ex­plo­sion of in­ter­est in these dra­matic ferns and they be­came fea­ture plants in back gar­dens across the UK. For about 10 years I trav­elled in­ces­santly and moved house nearly as of­ten. I was long­ing for the day when I could put down roots, so to

speak, and es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent gar­den, and I couldn’t wait to plant these favourites of mine. On the first ter­race of my slop­ing site I built a rec­tan­gu­lar pool and sur­rounded it with around 10 tree ferns. I also built a first-floor ve­ran­dah at the back of the house, which was a per­fect view­ing plat­form to look down on top of them. The re­cent trop­i­cal-like rains have cre­ated the per­fect con­di­tions. Where I live is not far from the coast so it’s gen­er­ally warmish with only oc­ca­sional snow. Tree ferns love air­borne mois­ture and they’ve been danc­ing for joy as the heav­ens opened last week. With the right con­di­tions they grow fairly fast and mine are now sprout­ing fronds that re­mind me of feath­ery os­trich plumes. They’re lush, green and ap­pear to be very happy. What was just a few years ago a rel­a­tively bare ter­race now looks like a glo­ri­ous sub-trop­i­cal jungle. I’ve un­der­planted them with the won­der­ful shade-lov­ing bi­en­nial Gera­nium pal­ma­tum and that re­sults in clouds of pink froth weav­ing its way around the base of the dark hairy stems. As a com­bi­na­tion, it’s a real de­light and even on the dullest days the drama of this plan­ta­tion lifts my heart.

Pro­ject: Diar­muid has 10 large ferns around his pool

Two Dick­so­nia antarc­tica tree ferns

Ex­otic: Ferns ar­rived from Aus­tralia in 1786

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