Favour the Fern – GardenRant

Many years ago The Financial Times sent me to do a feature on the RHS ‘Flower Show’ at Tatton Park .

I was totally naïve and had no idea what I was supposed to do or to write about. So my excitement was tempered by acute anxiety. The term ‘imposter syndrome’ could have been invented for me. I found myself by a huge and bewildering display of ferns and had the  desperate idea of asking the renowned and greatest fern expert in Britain, Martin Rickard, ‘what’s new’? Good thing there was something new. All I can tell you now is that it was a Woodwardia.

Sadly, the editor who took a gamble on me at the FT left soon after that (I do not believe I was responsible) and my contributions came to an abrupt halt. And equally sadly, I don’t think I know much more about ferns now than I did then.

Matteuccia struthiopteris and Virginia Creeper copyright Anne Wareham

Matteuccia struthiopteris and Virginia Creeper – fabulous combination? The creepingness of the fern is constrained by the a wall on one side and the drive on the other. So where next will it wander??

But still, I am going to risk a post about them, because I love them.

Making this post has helped me try to name some, though remembering them is unlikely. If I get one wrong and you know it – tell me, please. 

Polypodium australe 'Richard Kayse' . (With Phlebodium Blue Star - Blue Star Fern in the background - now safely indoors)

Polypodium australe ‘Richard Kayse’ . (With Phlebodium Blue Star – Blue Star Fern in the background – now safely indoors)

I want to start though with one I can name and I’m terribly proud of. (above) It was a gift from the eternally generous friends at The Sculpture Garden, Tintern. It’s described by the King John’s Nursery as a rare Welsh Wonder. They say:

“Polypodium australe ‘Richard Kayse’:

This is a lovely polypody fern with deeply divided foliage, a beautiful fern that’s easy and tough but with a fantastic story.

It was discovered by a Mr Richard Kayse of Bristol in 1668 on a cliff outside Cardiff. The fern is sterile so can only be propagated by division. At some point over the intervening centuries the fern disappeared from cultivation and was forgotten about. Until Martin Rickard (fern expert extraordinaire) rediscovered it growing on the same cliff in 1980. Because it is sterile and can’t reproduce through spores it had to be the same plant. A piece of rhizome was removed, grown on and split until years later I got hold of a piece. The plant I now sell in the nursery is part of the same plant found in 1668, of course no one knows when it grew from a spore before that and how old the plant is, but if you buy one you are growing a plant that is at least 400 and could be thousands of years old.”

Martin Rickard himself says in ‘The Plantfinder’s Guide to Garden Ferns’ – “plants in gardens under this name are parts of the original plant, since it is sterile, and can surely, therefore, lay claim to being one of the oldest herbaceous plants in existence.”

 Wow! So, I have an awesome plant here. The other amazing thing about this fern is that it is summer dormant, so one of the joys of autumn is its reappearance. Then it delights me all winter, because along with all that stuff, it is truly a beautiful fern.

It may be my favourite. But I have many more – ferns are ideally suited on the whole to what is still a wet, mossy, green garden.

I have another rarity and then you can stop being jealous.

That is a Parablechnum cordatum (syn. Blechnum chilense), (below) which apparently grows large (mine is still trying) – with fronds up to 60 inches long. And if I’m lucky it may creep. (Ben thinks it’s Woodwardia unigemmata and he could be right!)

Parablechnum cordatum (syn. Blechnum chilense) copyright Anne Wareham


Now here are some pictures which I hope will help you fall in love with ferns, if you haven’t already. (and if you can grow them… if not, just enjoy looking at their portraits?)

Susan Wright steps copyright Anne Wareham

My friend Susan’s work, once again.

What IS this one?? It’s doing this now, in February. Beautiful. 

It may be Matteuccia struthiopteris  but I never knew it did these super purple fronds. It may be Dryopteris filix-mas. Or – Drynaria siberiana ? Well, I really don’t know. Thing with ferns is that they have a certain look alike quality. But it is a treat just now. (February) (Ben thinks it’s actually Parablechnum cordatum, so I do have one of those, maybe)

And what about this? So strokable.

This was in April. New growth on ferns is one of their joys. The fern may be Polystichum setiferum.

And look at this:

Dryopteris flix-mas at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Dryopteris-flix-mas unwinding.

Ferns as hedges in Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

What on earth is this about?

This, my friends, is hedges. I hope. We had to remove blighted box and I thought this might make a good alternative. I thought they were in the shade, which they’d like, but actually the sun is higher than the hedge and they get very hot. Bit stooopid. But they seem to be winning and one day I hope to show you them all fully grown and – making hedges. With crocosmia in between, because the foliage is a good contrast even out of flower. They are Dryopteris affinis, Dryopteris dil. ‘Crispa Whiteside’, and Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’. 

Ferns at Broadwoodside copyright Anne Wareham

Ferns at Broadwoodside

We visited brilliant Broadwoodside and here’s a sweet use of ferns, eminently copyable. Unless, like us, your door is in a corner.

Ferns in pots copyright Anne Wareham

Great way to show off your pots.

By now you’ll be finding all that ferniness repetitious so here’s a little different – and it is little:

Asplenium ceterach at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Asplenium ceterach – about three inches across. Charles’ favourite, because he liberated it. Enough said. Now happily at home in one of our walls.

Asplenium scolopendrium at Veddw Garden

As is this one – Asplenium scolopendrium. (Hart’s Tongue – I’ve been a bit mean with common names, but they may be different in America?)

Planting by Terrace at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Ferns make great foliage contrasts – Osmunda regalis (Royal Fern) here with rodgersias, irises and rain gauge.

Foliage in the Veg Plot at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Here they are (what are???!) in contrast to hostas and cardoons.

I could go on and on but mustn’t. 

Our most prolific fern, of course, is bracken.

Much despised and harbourer of ticks but also ancient and with its merits.

Charles in Veddw fields copyright Anne Wareham

We have a lot of it in our new fields. 

Sometimes looking beautiful:

Bracken with Oenanthe crocata (Hemlock water-dropwort) copyright Anne Wareham

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) with Oenanthe crocata (Hemlock water-dropwort) How’s that for a confusing use of names?

I think we should probably be grateful for the rain which makes our ferns and mosses happy. Though it has been a bit TOO much lately.

Mud at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Mud, mud, glorious mud…..