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