Discovering Ferns

Apr25th 20128 comments

Ferns conjure images of lush and verdant forests and jungles. Waterfalls, streams, and quiet woodland pools come to mind. Slippery stones, mossy paths, and lichen covered logs seem to appear as well. It’s interesting that when one stops for just a few seconds, and ponders ferns, silently, in your mind, what surfaces are all kinds of associations of place. Nice places. Quiet places. Beautiful places. Places that transport you from where you are, to where you want to be! Ferns do that for me.

Using Ferns Indoors

Inside the house, ferns require a little more care, but are still quite easy. The trick to success with indoor ferns is moisture. Soil should be kept evenly moist, which does not mean wet. Humidity in the air is very helpful, which is why many people succeed with ferns in bathrooms, kitchens, and under glass (terrariums). Ferns will also do fine under most normal household conditions, but don’t place them in the dry air generated from forced hot air heating vents or fireplaces. Misting your plants is always appreciated.

A great way to use ferns indoors is to place a single choice specimen (like a Nevada, Maidenhair, or Bird’s Nest) in a singularly beautiful cache pot, like a hand painted Chinese porcelain bowl, or piece of mid-century pottery, on a dining, coffee, or side table. Ferns seem to enhance any vessel you put them in, where other plants may not. Ferns are also especially wonderful used in groupings on plant tables, or in Wardian cases, terrariums, and under cloches (glass bells). Whole collections of ferns can be found in what we call “itty bitty” sizes (about a 2” pot), and these are just perfect for planting under glass! The environment under glass is high in humidity, and mimics the ferns natural habitat... they will THRIVE.

A few indoor types to watch for are the Nevada type Boston fern, the mother fern, and the aspleniums, or bird’s nest ferns. The Nevada is a new introduction that is even more hardy and vigorous than the old but wonderful true Boston fern. It appears to be more compact and not quite as floppy. The mother fern is a new to the trade plant that grows large and has a graceful form. It also produces wonderful little “babies” on the backs of the fronds, that can be plucked off and potted on their own! Finally, the asplenium group are super easy and VERY interesting in form. They are almost sculptural in appearance, and look great on their own, or grouped with other types.

Using Ferns Outdoors

Ferns can be incredibly rugged and hardy additions to your outdoor space. Mostly shade loving, they can thrive where many plants would perish, turning a simple backyard corner into a Japanese Zen garden, a Coastal Maine cottage garden, or if you prefer a Costa Rican jungle garden. That’s the fun and amazing transformative power of these plants. They can change your world!

There are so many varieties of ferns suited to your garden, but let me mention just a few of my favorites. Hay scented is my number one pick. This groundcover type, works in sun or shade, in wet or dry situations. It creates this lovely two foot tall blanket of green, that on a warm summer day, emits this wonderful melon like fragrance that just hangs in the air. Ostrich ferns are the “queen” of the outdoor hardy ferns. They grow four feet or more tall, and have a truly regal vase shape. Also, the Japanese painted ferns are found in ever increasing new varieties, every year, and they will charm you with their often silvery, pink and purple colored markings.

Whichever ferns you choose, whether inside or out, I’m sure you will be transported away to some fine memory of place.


Photos Courtesy of Emily Covino

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Thanks for the fern post -

Thanks for the fern post - great info.
I do take issue with your recommendation of hay-scented fern for the garden. I have it in mine (inherited it when we moved here), and while it's beautiful and does well in all the ways you stated, it's horribly invasive and I have a terrible time keeping it under control. Leave one little piece of the root behind and you may as well not have bothered to dig them out of where they've run off to. I'd love to enjoy it, if only I could. Any ideas on how to keep it in bounds?

Hahahah. Barbara, that is

Hahahah. Barbara, that is EXACTLY what my great gardening friend said to me. I guess its all to do with where you grow it. My friend has it in a flower border and is forever trying to control it. Mine is planted as a groundcover on an embankment under Japanese white pines, where I originally planted 100 of them. I was looking for them to spread and create a field like effect, which they did beautifully. I guess its a matter of always researching a plants characteristics before you comit it to your space. Unfortunately, other than using a weed killer (which would wipe out ALL green things), there is no way to control this plant other than manual labor.
An interesting note......I also think the soil type has a lot to do with the ability to control it. I have a very good soil with tons of is loose and deep. I have no problem just pulling it up, and up come most of its roots. I think if you have a clay soil it is much more difficult to get up, because the soil doesnt give way, and hence, snapping roots that stay in the ground just to regrow in the future. Sorry, I couldnt be more help!

Love ferns, but got sick of

Love ferns, but got sick of them......way too messy.

Fern Fan!

Reading this article reminds me of my grandma's patio. When I was a kid I would do my homework in her patio that was filled with all kinds of ferns. She took pride in those plants and even named them! Thanks so much for the great post!,

do ferns appreciate fertilizer??

I've always wondered if I should be fertilizing my ferns. They don't seem to need it, but maybe they'd do better with a boost. Recomended or not? Thanks!

It is pretty safe to say that

It is pretty safe to say that MOST plants benefit from fertilizer. Ferns in the wild benefit from the decomposition of leaf matter, etc. which keep the soil fertile. Our home gardens often times are "cleaned up" several times a year, and over time we actually deplete the soil of nutrients. We do not allow leaf litter to build up and enrich the soil. If thats the case with your ferns, by all means fertilize, or add a layer of compost to your beds (even better!).

Rosa Rugosa

In the Spring/Summer edition of "Inspirations", Mr. Hohmann refers to Rosa rugosa as a native shrub. It is my understanding that Rosa rugosa is not native to North America. MJB

Rosa Rugosa

In my article for inspirations magazine, I mispoke by calling Rosa rugosa a native plant. It was in fact introduced to America somewhere in the mid to late 1800"s. I should have called it a naturalized plant.

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