After the landscaping and creating the gabion wall described last month, this month is about constructing and planting up the fern bed.  By 21 July 2019, the ground at the base of the gabions had reverted to weedy grass and had to be weeded and levelled.  You can see below the green post and string to show the size of the new bed:-

I had decided on a metal edging – you may notice in parks and big publically open gardens that lawns that abut paths are often edged with a thin metal edge – which can be bent round corners (or at right angles).  As the bed was on a slope – and would eventually be abutted by a paved path at a lower level to the bottom of the gabions, I chose a metal edging that was 15cm high and had teeth to bang into the ground to fix it.  This helped even out the slope by making the front of the fern bed seem slightly raised.  Here is a shot showing it going into the ground in August 2019:-

I dug into the base chalk (you can hardly call it subsoil!) to un-compact it, and as this has no humus in it at all, ordered two tons of mulch and one of topsoil to add to this bed, with topsoil I'd saved.  As I added each layer it was dug over to mix with the base chalk.  As you can see from the shot below, I had also saved a tree root stump, and many big branches that had fallen from our orchard trees over the past year or so in storms to add as decorative features for the ferns to grow beside – not quite a stumpery:-

The next stage was to place all the ferns in their pots (or clumps if dug up from the garden):-

Once happy with the placement, it was “simply” a matter of planting them…..I put some of my home made leaf mould in the base of each planting hole as I planted the ferns.  You may be able to make me out, in normal “downward dog” gardening position at the far end here – leaf mould in bags beside me – I almost NEVER kneel to garden:-

At the bottom of this photo, you can see some of the “frilly Edged” Harts Tongue ferns that I had from my sister's garden many years ago, part of the Cristatum group – these are the “tall frilly” ones – which are happier in my garden here than the “shorter fatter frilly-leafed” ones I also had from her.   The big potted fern is , the hard shield fern – which is also evergreen, and happy in that spot.

After all the planting had been done and watered in, the bed was top dressed with a thick layer of bark chippings, as you can see here on 20 September 2019, showing the var ‘Clivicola' on the left (which my brother in law did not think looked like a fern when he saw it a few days later!) and towards the front at the right a Dryopteris Crispa ‘Whiteside':-

In front of that Cyrtomium Fortunei I planted a large Arachnoides Aristata ‘Variagata' Fern I bought from a Norfolk garden, which the owner said was very prolific with them – you can't even see it here, it had so few fronds at this time of year, and did not survive the winter.  A reminder that what grows well in one person's garden does not necessarily mean it will thrive in a different part of the country.   Indeed, in this bed, I planted three maidenhair ferns – Adiantum Pedatum – along the front of this bed about 2.5 m apart.  Only one thrives – at the beginning of the bed, as you can see from 21st March this year surrounded by snowdrop foliage:-

One has decided after 4 years to die completely, and the middle one is very weedy looking…..the same plants were bought at the same time from the same nursery and planted in the same conditions, and yet not behaving equally!?

So, to more detail of what I planted.

As you can see from the picture my other half drew me on February 21, I planted 35 different types of ferns, and three types of bulbs within the bed.  Whilst I understand many people think a fern is a green frondy thing and they all look the same, this is clearly not true!   There are both evergreen and deciduous ferns, Harts Tongue ferns (Asplenium Scolopendium) have solid shiny evergreen leaves, whilst the (deciduous) Dryopteris Ferns have the more “classic” frondy appearance.  As I showed you last month Dryopteris “Cristata the King” has an additional ripple at the edge of the fronds – and is very happy here.  You can see from this photo from early July 2021 that it is a more golden form than the Dryopteris Felix-mas (Male Fern) beside it:-

In front of it, you can see a small fern – one of the “shorter fatter” Harts Tongue Ferns (Asplenium Scolopendium Cristatum group) I mentioned above (with a close up of the Dryopteris ‘Cristata the King' frond bottom right):-

I also planted three Dryopteris ‘Golden Brilliance', which had old gold, or auburn new leaf growth, and which survived happily until the winter of 22/23 when we had the flood/freeze/flood/freeze/wet.  In early June 2021 their new fronds look like this:-

A month later their mature fronds are less vivid, but still golden-y:-

There are very filmy fronds, like the form of Athyrium that my sister said was an Irish Tatting Lace fern when she dug it up from her garden for me.   This fern was in a big pot in the garden for many years – and survived drought, heatwave, sun, shade, and neglect.  When I came to tip it out of the pot it had managed to make three big crowns, and so I separated them to make a big pool of it – a later leafing fern than the Dryopteris, it makes a very pleasing large green lacy splash by midsummer, then dies down by autumn, and in the wet winters we have been having recently, needs the fronds removing by Christmas to stop them rotting the crown. (I have to cut the deciduous ferns' fronds away before the snowdrops come up in January all along the bed.)   Here they are in early July 2021 with a very extreme shape of the leaf of the to the left in front, and ‘Bifido Muiliformum' to the right – with an “ordinary” Harts Tongue Fern (Asplenium Scolopendium) by the tree stump for comparison:-

Here's a close up of a tatting lace frond, with Athyrium ‘Burgundy Lace' looking very fresh and bright in early June 2021:-

And from above, the same day, with Athyrium Filx-Femina to the bottom left to show the different filmy nature of the fronds:-

Another species of filmy ferns I have some specimens of are the Polystichums – here is Polystichum Setiferum ‘Herrenhausen' (an evergreen fern) in March this year – looking VERY happy:-

Another evergreen Polystichum that is growing well was putting out furry new crosiers on 21st March – which do not look at all “plant-like” – this is :-

I am always fascinated by the new crosiers of ferns appearing – they often bear little relation to the frond they become – as above here, or in this photo of both new Asplenium Scolopendium fronds to the left, and the brown, hairy, sinewy looking crosiers of the Dryopteris ‘Cristata the King' on the right, from early May 2023:-

And here the Dryopteris ‘Cristata the King' crosier close up:-

I think I first became interested in the structure and variety of ferns as I walked through Bluebell Woods in April seeing their new crosiers unfurling above the carpet of beautifully scented bluebells, and marvelling at the structure of their curls, and the freshness of their green fronds above the deep blue.  I still love to see the crosiers develop and unfurl – so distinctive, unique, alien-looking. A true sign of spring.

I could go on and on about ferns, but I shall stop there, and next month talk about how long I expect different plants to live and catch up on how my garden survived the warm wet windy winter and spring.

Sheila May, in May 2024.