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Cornucopia - A Little Bit of Pre-History

A little bit of pre-history
Lys de Bray

I went to an HPS illustrated talk on ferns and came away determined to re-jig a sheltered flowery corner to accommodate some of these lovely, restful, prehistoric plants. The corner is small, an irregular 6ft x 8ft, edged on one side by the potting shed wall and on the other by a hedge of the bamboo Fargesia murielae which is flowering at present and therefore very dead-looking. A fernery needs minimal care only, unlike asters and dahlias which demand considerable annual effort, or roses and fuchsias which shout even louder for regular attention.

The wavy ribbons of the evergreen Asplenium scolopendrium – Hart's Tongue Fern – are already growing in the bank just here from which water seeps, drips, trickles or gushes depending on recent rainfall. There is a huge evergreen Polystichum setiferum 'Divisilobum Densum' and, as I write this, its shining golden-brown crosiers are lazily uncurling in the sun in a corner of the nursery area, but it'll be much happier in a proper home with its own kind for company. I also have Matteuccia struthiopteris - the Shuttlecock or Ostrich-feather Fern, easy to grow and so beautiful in spring. There are some Dryopteris felix-mas - Male ferns - conveniently sprouting from the damp bank by the house which I'll pot up and grow on until their new home is ready. One of the most beautiful ferns is Athyrium niponicum var. pictum - the painted fern - which has artificial-looking, silver-purple fronds. Cyrtomium fortunei is the hardy Japanese Holly Fern which has broad, smooth olive-green leaflets (pinnae) that look slightly prickly. Onoclea sensibilis - the sensitive fern - is so called because the fronds act as a handy frost-warning. These few hardy ferns have contrasting shapes and colours and they'll be enough to make a statement, as they say, and since the space is limited, this factor will prevent me from getting hooked. I hope.

The ground will be prepared in early winter by adding plenty of home-brewed compost and 3-year-old leaf-mould. When the ferns are in I'll add a carpet of wood-chips, a perfect natural background to the greenness of the lacy fronds as well as suppressing weeds and keeping moisture in. A statue or a piece of natural wood sculpture would be nice as a focal point.

First published in the Dorset Group Newsletter, 2008
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 24
© Copyright for this article: Lys de Bray

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2009. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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