Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ferns, My Fronds

One of the first memories I have of being a child is walking through tall fronds of bracken almost to my shoulders on a hot summer's day, and the sharp sweet smell of it as I brushed it with my hands. The ferns were a magic place to me, and I would lie on my back underneath them and look at their lacey leaves silhouetted against the blue of the sky, knowing beyond a doubt that there were elves under there with me. I could hear their voices in the rustle of the ferns in the breeze. My love afair with ferns began with that enchanted time, and I am still fascinated beyond joy to find a spring nest of tightly curled fiddleheads looking for all the world like some mythical being ready to be born.

The more ferns I meet, the more I love them. Ferns are an ancient species, older than flowering plants, far older than the dinosaurs, gracing the earth in the dawn of time. They are many in shapes and sizes, from the tiny woodsias and spleenworts to the immense tree ferns of Australia and Tasmania.  I have as many in my garden as I can find, always adding a new one or two every year, and all seem to thrive. I have had some for more than 25 years without ever being divided, cultivated or fertilized, and whether they spread out their rhizatomous root and creep about the woods, forming lush green colonies, or happily stay in their own patch of earth, they are all welcome with their grace and beauty. One cannot have too many ferns.

Ebony spleenwort, right
Ostrich fern, left

Don't remember the name of this one, but I love the shape as it unfurls!

Sensitive fern. a wonderful colonizer

Cinnamon fern. Like a moist place where it will get a good 3' tall, but does well in average soil.

Woodsia, with trilliums. This dainty, lovely fresh green fern carpets the woods floor and is one of the first to come up in the spring. It sprung spontaneously in my woods, I didn't plant this one.

Autumn fern is lovely with bronzy new fronds

So many I forget which one this is, but I love it, so fresh and, well, ferny!

Japanese painted fern

Maidenhair fern, one of my favorites. But then, they are all my favorites!

Hart's tongue fern. So cool looking! Very Jurassic park!

I wish I could post pictures of them all, but there are so many. Crested ferns, lady ferns, male ferns, Goldie's ferns, tatting ferns, ostrich ferns, holly ferns, arborvitae ferns (this is realy a selaginella and looks like an evergreen arborvitae) and too many to name, if I could even think of them all. A good source for fern information:

The contrast of ferny foliage sets off any plant you put with it, and it is spectacular against rocks. I love the way they stay fresh and green no matter the weather, and besides, there are elves under them!

"The voices of the ferns whisper to me
On cinnamon scented breeze."
                                               -- S.P.


  1. I have several species of ferns scattered about, but this post has inspired me to plant many more! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I've been planting California native ferns ever since I bought my new-old house.