This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
In this we have a Fern of extremely easy culture, in short we find it growing in almost every soil and situation; nevertheless it prefers shaded hedge-banks and woods where the soil is of a rich sandy loam, and where it luxuriates beautifully, producing fronds in many instances two to three feet high; it therefore requires no peat, and will do and look exceedingly well if planted by the sides of shady walks, in shrubberies, etc. Of this graceful though common Fern I possess a very old specimen, under the name of Aspidium cristatum; but whether it was considered by the cryptogamists of those far by-gone days identical with the following, the present L. cristata, or not, I am not at present prepared to assert, as I suspect I was then paying but very little attention to such matters; however, if they did so consider them, to be truly charitable, we must forgive the little error, for really, in some stages of their growth, they approach so closely to each other, as almost to baffle detection. Lastraea filix mas of itself is a very distinct Fern, and need not be confounded with any other species, more especially as the different varieties of it, if such they may be called, hitherto detected, have not, so far as my knowledge goes, proved constant, but, after a few years of cultivation, have run into the original form.
This is altogether as difficult as the preceding is easy of cultivation, which in some measure may arise from its habitat, being truly an inhabitant of bogs; in fine, it all but resists cultivation, as I have subjected it to several methods, with nearly an equal degree of bad success. To bring it, however, as near as possible to its native habitat, I tried bog and sand, which proved a complete failure, as the roots did not in any instance adhere to the fresh soil, but gradually retired from the field of cultivation altogether. Consequently I would recommend it to be planted in light sandy soil, where the roots will not so readily damp-off before adhering to it; but even here it will never acquire that state of growth which it does in its native bogs. This, however, is not the only instance I shall have to record in the course of my remarks, as I consider that many of the species of British Ferns affecting to grow in moist or boggy soils are more or less difficult in cultivation. The difficulty alone in the cultivation of L. cristata, compared with that of L. filix mas, would almost induce me to consider them distinct, as cultivation is not, in my opinion, a bad criterion to go by in cases of apparently too near affinity.
I had almost forgotten to say that I had no better success with my potted roots, which were in peat and silver-sand.
This is really a beautiful Fern, and will succeed well in one-third peat and two-thirds light sandy loam. I here recommend loam to predominate in the composition wherein it is intended to grow British Ferns, as it gets firm much sooner than peat, which is very apt to part from the roots through the agency of worms, etc. before they have had time to adhere to it; and, if not carefully watched through the winter, the frost will be certain to throw some of the smaller species out of the peat altogether. I wish particularly to be understood as speaking of Ferns planted in the fernry; for in no one instance would I advise potting British Ferns where the least hope of success remained in the fernry. Surely in such a place, if happily situated and well constructed, there will be found some out-of-the-way nooks well calculated for a few of the more rare and delicate sorts, which may require a little more shade and shelter than their more hardy companions. I am aware that many such are kept in pots, and sheltered in pits and frames during the winter months; indeed, I myself have many sorts in pots, but that is more from necessity than choice.
I, however, can see no particular objection to establishing the delicate kinds in pots; but plant them out as soon as that end is accomplished into the fernry, or wherever it is intended for them to remain. The planting-out may be done any time from June to November, as they will then have ample time to take root before winter. No collection of British Ferns should be without this plant, as it is truly handsome, and may readily be distinguished from either of the above, by the closely set disposition of the pinnae, and the pinnatified appearance of the pinnules; besides, the whole plant is truly rigid in all the stages of its growth.
Nursery, Foot's Cray, March 1850. Robert Sim.