IN THE formation of a Fernery, a location partially shaded and yet not exposed to draughts or harsh winds should be selected.
A situation facing East or a Northerly slope suits the great majority of hardy Ferns, and, as they are generally found as undergrowth in woods or rocky ledges, on the banks of streams or creeks, or in shady spots in marshy ground, these conditions should be imitated as closely as possible, a rocky dell shaded with deciduous trees being an ideal spot in which to establish a Fernery.
Of course many of the hardier, stronger growers do fairly well under practically any tree or in partial shade of almost any kind, but a situation, such as has been described, will be found from results to be very much the best.
The decision as to the selection of the site may be influenced by whether the intention is to plant the Ferns on the ordinary ground level or to have a Rock Fernery.
If the Ferns are to be planted without introducing rocks or stumps, all that is necessary is to see that the soil is of the proper character. It should be light, rich and porous, so that water will pass through it freely. If the natural soil is heavy loam or of a clayey nature, it should either be removed to the depth of one foot, and a foot of light soil filled in, or the foot of light soil should be spread over the surface of the original ground.
The very best soil for growing Ferns is composed of one-quarter peat, one-quarter sandy loam, one-quarter sharp sand and one-quarter leaf-mold, all having been thoroughly mixed together a month before being used.
Should a Rockery effect be desired in conjunction with the Fernery, place the rocks (which should be if possible of a porous nature) on top of the soil, allowing a layer of soil of at least one-half of an inch to lie between each rock; avoid building the so-called pockets into the Rockery as this invariably leads to sour soil, and sour soil means sickly plants.
The comfort of the plants should be the first consideration and should not be sacrificed to the appearance of the rockwork.
When the rockwork is finished, the plants should be got together and a system of planting laid out. The larger Ferns, including the Tree Ferns, should first be arranged and planted; afterwards those of medium growth should be placed in their positions, and then the smaller and dwarf kinds.
The best Tree Ferns for the beginner to experiment with are the Dicksbnia antarctica and the Alsophila australis as they are both vigorous growers and are among the noblest and most beautiful of any. When planting, set them out in group-form irregularly and from five to ten feet apart; under and among them plant such kinds as Woodwardia, the stronger growing Asplenium, Polystichum, Lastraea, Polypodium, Osmunda, Blech-num brasiliense, Pteris tremula, and also our native Sword Fern. Then, to finish the group, plant, near the walk, the smaller and dwarf species such as the Five finger Fern, the Deer Fern. Blechnum Spicant, Scolopendrium, Adiantum Capillus veneris, Cystopteris fragilis, Woodsia, etc.
The most of the foregoing are evergreen, delighting in perpetual moisture, and should be given every attention in the way of watering, their roots never being allowed to get the least dry. During dry weather they should be sprinkled at least once a day overhead, water that is not too cold being used; water drawn direct from city mains or from artesian wells is much too cold for use in sprinkling or watering ferns or other delicately foliaged plants. Especially should care be taken in watering the smaller kinds which should always be watered with the watering-pot, the water having been aerated and warmed by contact with the atmosphere before being used.
The season for planting is from November until growth commences, which is generally in February. When planting, see that the soil is of the nature recommended; plant moderately firm and not too deep.
Ferns grown in pots require repotting more or less frequently. This must be very carefully done, it being remembered that these plants make their most luxuriant growth after they have covered the inside of the pots with a network of their roots. The repotting may be done at any season, but early Spring, just before growth commences, is regarded as the best season for the work. In repotting, see that the pots are clean and dry; should new pots be used, they must be put in water and allowed to remain there a sufficiently long time to become thoroughly soaked; they should then be well dried before being used. New pots absorb great quantities of water, and, unless they are well soaked before being used, it often happens that the first two or three waterings, instead of watering the roots of the plant, serve to only soak the pot, while the balls of earth, which the pots contain, become so dry that it is difficult to again get them moistened. When preparing pots, see that the proper amount of drainage is put in. First place one piece of broken potsherd over the hole in the bottom of the pot, then fill the pot about one-fifth of its depth with clean, broken potsherds; cover this drainage material with moss to keep the soil from mixing with it. The soil should consist of two parts sandy fibrous loam, one part of leaf-mold and one part of peat with enough coarse sharp sand to keep the whole open and porous.