Without much fuss, plants are going about their business, spreading themselves about the garden. True, some announce their intentions loudly with spires of blossom, followed by seed heads that rattle like a couple of old gardeners over a fence. Others eschew flowers as being too nouveau riche, too bling, too new kids on the block. Ferns have been beavering away at world domination for 340 million years. They spread by windblown spores which settle in a moist place and grow into a tiny gametophyte. These release male swimmers which reach the female parts of another, which thus fertilised, forms a new plant. This alternation of generations may be the reason that they haven’t taken over the planet, apart from the plots of those of you who have a kink for tree ferns.
Woodwardia fimbriata (giant chain fern)
I’ve been growing Athyrium (lady fern) varieties for a long time. Like most sophisticated women, they are elegant and well behaved, as long as you give them what they want. They are patient with my dry soil, provided that they are shaded. The lack of moisture means that I have no rush of infants requiring homes or brutal eviction. They are polite and civil to their neighbours, thereby encouraging me to make enquiries about their relatives. Friends, this is the thin edge of the wedge. Now I’m feeling greedy.
North facing fern border
When Cineraria was small, I taught her to say Polystichum setiferum divisilobum densum. Latin is good for children, it makes them grateful for English. This is the soft shield fern with fabulous filigreed fronds and a spectacular name which gives the spellchecker pause for thought. Asplenium scolopendrium is the hart’s tongue which grows wild in north facing walls. When dug out and given a little care, it forms a basket of fresh green beauty. Blechnum (hard fern) Dryopteris (male fern) and Asplenium (spleenwort) are all English natives, to which the plant breeders have added some glitter. I find them irresistible and have to admit that the difficult, desiccated border in the lee of a tall wall is becoming a dedicated fernery. Splotches of brightly leaved Heuchera (coral flower) and Arum italicum marmoratum (Italian arum) are making it less of an exercise for anoraks.
Polystichum setiferum “Divisilobum Densum” (soft shield fern)
I wanted more. I tried to flirt with a Woodwardia (chain fern) at the flower show. The other gardeners were flocking around like vultures on a dead cow. Without dinner or so much as a box of chocolates, I was helpless in its grasp. I beat off the other suitors and carried it away to a comfortable bed. This one needs damp soil but I’m prepared to make an effort for such a pretty toy. I don’t regard myself as insatiable but within hours I was on the internet, demanding additional thrills. I can report considerable satisfaction from Shady Plants mail order nursery, who boast an exciting catalogue. They dispatched lovely specimens from Ireland at a reasonable price, with an unexpected freebie for a modest order. Now I have ferns in the garden, conservatory, bathroom and hall. They ooze over the edge of pots, charm in the border and effervesce from high containers. Talk among yourselves, here’s some pocket money for a movie, I’m having a moment.