Ferny Fascination

Asplenium scolopendrium crispum

Asplenium scolopendrium crispum

It is very reassuring in life to discover that your proclivities are shared by others, you get an unexpected sense of connection and understanding.  Before you wonder what on earth I am  whittering about or whether this is another of those strange writing assignments I have been doing recently  I must reassure you that I am talking about my plant addictions.

Woodwardia (I think)

Woodwardia (I think)

I was once told by my then doctor that I had an addictive personality.  I don’t think she meant that people would become addicted to me but rather that my nature is such that I have become addicted to things.  It manifests itself in a number of ways, one of them is a compulsion to collect plants.  Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know I have a number of obsessions including bulbs, particularly irises, and ferns.  I love ferns but have never really engaged with understanding them or learning about them as I have always been intimidated by their long names and the slight nerdiness that goes with fern appreciation.  Galanthomania is much the same.

Polypodium cambricum 'Richard Kayse'

Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’

Anyway, about a year ago I plucked up courage and joined the British Pteridological Society (Fern Society to you and me).   I have still to read through all the literature they have sent me, some of it is very academic and well beyond my understanding, but their website is very good especially if you are thinking of trying to grow ferns from spores. Yesterday I attended my first meeting with the local group and it involved visiting two gardens of plant addicts.


The first garden was that of Veronica Cross, a well known plant collector, who has real obsessions such as tree peonies.  Apparently she has 150 of these although I suspect this is an exaggeration by her friend, Martin Rickard.  We toured her garden ostensibly looking at her ferns with Martin as our guide but of course many of us are easily distracted by any nice plants, the hydrangea were looking particularly nice. I did start off feeling a little out of my depth especially when the attendees (13 of us) were using a form of verbal shorthand to refer to certain ferns.  However, me being me, I plucked up courage to start asking questions and quickly I find myself getting little tips and bits of advice that were at my level without me feeling daft. I think if you show you are interested and want to learn then gardeners are very generous with knowledge and enjoy sharing their passion.


After lunch we visited a second garden hidden away in the depths of the Herefordshire countryside.  The owner of the second garden is a real plant addict.  Wonderfully enthusiastic, more knowledgeable than he admits and with a really beautiful garden which just showed that gardens of plant addicts don’t have to be bitty in appearance.  Not only did we see an extensive collection of ferns but we also spotted many salvias and agapanthus flowering away and as for greenhouse , it was home to a lovely collection of species pelargoniums as well as a beautifully maintained and stocked alpine house.

Familiar scene - wondering what this is

Familiar scene – wondering what this is

More peering at  ferns and I even began to recognise some, though I suspect today if I went back I would have forgotten them all. Interestingly both gardens employed the use of labels extensively but it wasn’t distracting as the labels were tucked away under the plants.  I think when it comes to ferns you need to label your plants if you are going to collect them as in some cases the difference is so small that even the real experts in the group struggled.


So after a fascinating day with entertaining company I came home with 3 new ferns, all spares from attendees and a need to find out more. I also need to try to work out which ferns I have, most are labelled but there are a few that need identifying.

18 Comments on “Ferny Fascination

  1. I share your love for ferns, Helen and have added many to the gardens I work in. But when I came to write a post about them recently I realised that I hadn’t kept a proper note of which was which. Infuriating because I do think they are underrated, fascinating and oddly disliked by some people. (A certain local farmer springs to mind). I might just go ahead, write a post and hold my hands up at being a pants note taker. Proudly a Galanthomaniac, Dave

    • Go for it, even the great Martin Rickard was struggling with some, and also it depends on growing conditions etc. I think some of us just have that fascination with variations of a plant, which other gardeners think is madness (it probably is), I am still trying to resist glanthomania, but I feel it calling!

  2. I shall be fascinated to see your addiction developing Helen. I wish I knew more about them too. Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’ would find a home here any day.

    • I may have to move if the addiction gets worse will run out of space if I’m not careful

  3. Well being well on the way to ‘nerdiness’ with my snowdrop addiction Helen I can well understand the attraction of ferns. Unlike with most other plants I do struggle to remember their proper names and the thought of growing from spores makes me feel rather nervous. My latest fern purchase (don’t ask me the name – begins with an a) is heading off to live in the Lake Distict where I think it will thrive. Sounds as if you had an informative and inspirational day.

    • Hi Anna
      Growing from spores isn’t that hard it just takes a while and you have to sterilise the compost.

  4. I love ferns too. I have three but would welcome more. I think I might have to join a plant society if it means visiting such interesting gardens with like-minded folk. I enjoyed this post Helen.

  5. I love ferns too, and can’t resist buying one or two each year. I have less than 15, more than 10, can’t remember all their names without referring to my garden log. I shall look out for the black labels I have seen recently at the Malvern Show, and try to rectify this. I love their shape, and form, and seem to be drawn to them!

    • Hi Noelle
      I use the black labels, just about to order some more from Labels n Things

  6. I think it’s great you joined the organization, Helen. You will learn so much. I love ferns and have several but can only identify a couple of them. Lesson learned here: LABELS! I like the idea of hiding them behind the fern — good for other plants, too. P. x

  7. I love ferns too! So far I have three… don’t ask their names. I did learn recently that anything called a Dryopteris likes dry conditions, and that is the extent of my knowledge. Well done for joining your society, and please continue to share your newfound knowledge with us.

  8. I also love ferns and have trouble remembering their botanical names and pronouncing them. Worst of all I never noted the name of my best fern. Your ruffled Hart’s Tongue is beautiful and better than my best example.

    • Hi Linda
      It’s not my fern, it belongs to a lady who is a well respected plantswoman

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