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Cornucopia - Ferns as Winter Features

Ferns as Winter Features
Andrew Lawes

Sometimes ‘Lady Luck’ just seems to go your way – a positive bonus when you consider the times that it doesn’t. So it was that lady luck, as it definitely wasn’t judgement on my part, came into play when I chose the ferns for my garden – which has been, and still is, a long and deliciously drawn-out process. I simply chose the ones that I liked - not considering much more than their hardiness. Here we were in winter, and yet the majority of the ferns I had either in pots or in the fernery were still green and in leaf, some a bit battered by the wet, windy weather but still making a goodly show. In contrast to my two pots of shuttlecock fern that, as soon as they considered autumn was upon them, shut up shop and became brown, gnarled, crispy entanglements.

Like lots of things that are obvious, so obvious that you tend to look past them, I hadn’t fully considered the evergreen impact of my ferns. Having them all together, staged, as it were, in different-sized faux-lead planters set on terracotta pamments, has really emphasised this attribute.

I had noticed individuals for their evergreen qualities, such as the shiny, fronded Polystichum polyblepharum 'Jade' which, I have to admit, is one of my favourites among favourites galore. The easy-going, glossy-leaved Hart’s Tongue ferns in their varietal forms are pert statements amid the frothy fronds of other more flamboyant species. Removal of the weary foliage in the spring allows the new growth to take precedence and re-invigorate this modest individual.

The ‘small but perfectly formed’ Blechnum spicant, looking rather primeval with its array of comb-like pinnae, is, as they say, ‘a tough little cookie’! Softer, but looking just as brittle, is Dryopteris cristata, the cristate male fern, which definitely suffers from a lot of wind and rain but is still showy. Whereas the Himalayan Holly Fern Cyrtomium fortunei, with its wiry stems, is a bit more resilient. Polystichum setiferum, of which I am very fond, and have several, one of which is in an elegant pot beside the back door, looks vulnerable due to its long, elegant fronds. However, I find this fern a real toughie and, despite the snowfall which has occurred whilst I have been writing this, appears untouched by this frosty winter weight – in fact the dome of snow sitting squarely upon it looks rather like a cheeky French beret with its serpentine fronds protruding like the hair of Medusa.

As I mentioned, I started writing this prior to any snowfall and many of the ferns are just white mounds, so it will be interesting to see which ones, of the selection I have made from my total collection, still look good after the thaw.

First published in the Norfolk & Suffolk Group Newsletter Spring 2013
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 34.
© Copyright for this article: Andrew Lawes

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2014. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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