Ferns Arent's Boring
house plant and many people think of a fern or something
they think is a fern. Their next thought is likely to
be ‘that’s a bit boring’. We think
Ferns have devoted fans that collect them with love
and ardour. They are the few. The many are those who
think they are dull. If the latter, larger, group knew
of ferns’ distinguished history as house plants
and their potential if looked after with imagination,
they might easily change their minds.
It was the Victorians who gave ferns their fashionable
status amongst houseplants. A remarkable man, Dr Nathaniel
Ward invented a glass case that enabled plants to survive
for a long time and which provided the principle for
a bottle garden, which we’ll talk about later.
From his discovery in around 1830 it was not long before
the sitting rooms of all fashion-conscious families
had a glass case planted up with ferns.
The point of telling you that story wasn’t just
boring history, it had a point. The Victorians got it
right with ferns as house plants by using them in groups
and by thinking about their setting. This is still the
key to their success. The single fern that you were
given on Mother’s Day or that you bought in a
hurry to decorate the spare room for guests will inevitably
look a bit lonely.
Group them together and you immediately create the feel
of a garden, especially if you combine different ferns,
some with luscious broad leaves like the Bird’s
Nest ferns, and the feathery types like the Maidenhair
ferns. Grouping them together also creates a miniature
climatic environment which encourages them to thrive.
The crucial elements
in their positioning are light and humidity. It is a
myth that ferns like being in semi-darkness; dark conditions
indoors are quite different to dark conditions outdoors,
and it is not a good idea to banish your ferns to a
shrouded corner. More important, avoid direct sunlight,
they will not enjoy being on a sunny south-facing table
or windowsill; a bit of morning or evening sun is perfect;
no real light all day only for those that prefer the
The ferns we grow indoors as houseplants are all relatives
of the hardy ones that grow wild in Britain, they just
originate from warmer – often tropical –
climates. High, or at least constant, humidity is an
essential, which is why the bathroom is often the best
place for ferns.
In your sitting room the central heating will be a problem,
so why not follow the example of the Victorians and
grow your ferns in a glass case. Buy a fish aquarium,
fill the bottom with gravel or clean, small stone chippings.
Spread a layer 5-10 cms deep of ordinary growing compost,
add a few larger stones and perhaps a piece of dead
wood for effect and plant your ferns. The creation of
a colony and the semi-enclosed glass surroundings will
generate extra humidity as well as making a mini-fernery.
For more information on some different ferns click on
the following names to go to George's Plantfinder database:
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com