Focus on ferns – 2

Here are six more ferns from my garden. I thought I could go through most of them in a few weeks in spring but it is only when you set out on such a task that you realise how quickly some emerge and how slowly others. That’s a good thing; it extends the period over which they make a big contribution to the garden and it means I can pace myself on blogging about them.

Athyrium otophorum var. okanum. Eared lady fern.
Like many ferns described as deciduous this will often stay in good condition through most of a normal UK winter. It is happiest in shade and is particularly attractive with fresh new foliage in spring and early summer. Dark brownish-purple stems and veins contrast with light yellowish-green blades, creating a combination that stands out among the mid greens of most other ferns. The fronds emerge upright then arch outwards, making a clump roughly 18ins tall. It seems to be fairly tolerant of dry conditions in summer but happier, and bigger, if moisture is always available.

Polystichum setiferum ‘Ray Smith’.
There are numerous cultivars of soft shield fern available; this one stands out for the narrowness of its fronds which are only 2-2.5 inches wide but up to 3 feet tall. It is evergreen but at its best with new fronds in spring. The old fronds produce bulbils over the winter and from these new plants can be raised. I haven’t found this to be easy, the bulbils start to make new growth as the old fronds die and are barely big enough to be viable on their own. Putting them under mist or in a propagator probably affords the best chance of success.

Araiostegia parvipinnata BSWJ1608.
I liked this so much that I went on to purchase the other species of Araiostegia, A. pulchra, that Crûg offer on their website. The two are almost indistinguishable to my eye. This is a lovely fern that Crûg have had growing outdoors for years. I have had it in the ground for three winters now and it seems fine, though I believe it would be happier in a moister, more organic rich soil. In nature it is epiphytic, growing in damp and shady gullies. It produces surface rhizomes, densely covered with orange scales, from which arise slender stipes supporting the finest of tripinnate fronds. These are a little over a foot tall in the garden but grew much taller when I still had the plant under cover.

Blechnum tabulare.
Years ago, a colleague of mine told me that one of our local-ish garden centres had plants of Blechnum tabulare in stock. The real thing, he assured me. I love the way that garden centres just occasionally get hold of ridiculously choice and rare plants; you have to assume they are blissfully unaware of what they have. I duly dashed off and purchased on and have nurtured it since. It’s now in a 20 litre pot and for the last two winters has stayed outside, in a sheltered spot, and pushed under my big bamboo when it got really cold. Its name derives from Table Mountain, in South Africa, it being a native of sub-Saharan Africa. It is the most Cycad-like fern that I grow and in time should form a short trunk in the manner of tree ferns.

Asplenium scolopendrium. Hart’s tongue fern.
From the most alien to the least; this is a native and arrived in the garden without my help. Most of it chooses to grow in a low brick wall which presumably has moist soil behind it most of the time. Last summer that survival strategy failed and while the ferns survived, it was a close call. In woodland around the country this fern is a familiar sight and grows leaves up to 2 feet long. Mine might just manage a foot in a good year and spend a lot of time looking pretty shrivelled, yet they are growing where almost nothing else could and are an improvement over a bare brick wall. I am grateful to them for that. There are a great many varieties of it available, none of which improves on the original to my mind.

Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’.
This is an interesting hybrid raised by Therman Maness who crossed Athyrium nipponicum var. pictum with Athyrium filix-femina ‘Congestum Cristatum’. I have it growing in the shade of a camellia bush where it is fighting it out with bluebells and Asarum proboscideum; so far it’s winning, so it doesn’t lack vigour. It produces upright fronds of feathery, silver-green with darker stipes and stands about 15-18 inches tall. The tips of the fronds are divided into crests; intriguing but still requiring imagination to see them as waves crashing against the shore.


There’ll be more; watch this space.

7 thoughts on “Focus on ferns – 2

  1. I agree with you on the okanum….which I have. Thanks for showing all these ferns…Harts tongues grow rampantly in the ditches and along the hedges down to the Somerset levels…but I still think they are beautiful. Ocean’s fury is pretty exciting…..


    1. You’d think there would be a lot of mileage in hybridising ferns like ‘Ocean’s Fury’. I’m not aware of many hybrids, a lot are just odd forms that have been found growing in the wild. I wonder what else is in the pipeline.


  2. Now that the weather is warming, all the ferns that I sort of forgot about over winter are renovating themselves. They always seem bigger each spring, even though I know they started out the same last spring. The natives on the canyon walls are still better than those in the landscapes.


      1. The British Isles hasn’t contributed much to global horticulture from its native flora because it doesn’t have a great deal that is garden worthy and even less that is endemic. The opportunity for plant species to come back to this country after the last ice age was short lived, as the rising sea broke through the Straits of Dover and cut us off as an island. But for that, you could be growing things that we think of as common natives.

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