This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Most Ferns are beautiful, some are supremely so. Adiantum Farleyense counts an admirer in every one who looks upon its pretty cut leaflets, pendent, in clusters, on hair-like branchlets so fine as to require near inspection to discern their presence. So charmingly airy, and yet so fragile, does the whole plant appear, that one at once concludes that a breath of dry or chilly air would wither up its greenness.
The soft luxuriant aspect of a healthy Todea superba, while in growth, also engenders similar impressions in the mind of the beholder, although we are aware of its comparative hardiness. Any further description of this Fern is indeed difficult to encounter, nor shall we venture to detail more than what is superficial.
The likest object that I can select to illustrate or represent T. superba in form, is that of a huge rosette. Imagine such, built up by a series of layers of elegantly curved, lanceolate, mossy plumes, beautifully crisp, semitransparent, the pinnae a brisk green, densely compact, and so placed on edge along the rachis as to impart in some degree the likeness of a piece of green velvet to the fronds. These rich distinctions, adding the various shades exhibited in the fronds of different ages, which range from bright pea in the young to the deepest green in the old, give T. superba a beauty entirely its own.
This Fern is generally considered and treated as a greenhouse species, and grown under such conditions excellent specimens are found; but I have noticed invariably such plants present a hard harsh look in winter; at all events, they are in a great measure void of that delicate hue which is so attractive, and is constantly present on plants wintered in a few degrees higher temperature. Besides this, another advantage follows the latter mode - that is, an additional growth to the plant in the year is secured; and this, so far as my experience goes, without hurt to the constitution of the plant. I have also discovered that they throw up fronds more vigorous and numerous in winter than those produced in the height of summer, and that the plants have a stronger inclination for rest in summer than any other period of the year. As an example, last season our only plant of superba came to a state of inactivity at the end of June, after having matured a course of fronds: this state continued on to the end of August, when fresh signs of active growth appeared.
The plant during this season of rest stood inside a case in a cool greenhouse among some plants of T. pellucida and Hymenophyllums; on seeing fresh fronds appearing, I had the plant placed in its quarters in the stove, as I intended it for competition in September, and of course the crest of young fronds would much enhance its value. The plant was shown in the condition described, and after standing four days and five nights under canvas inside a hand-glass, it was brought home without the least damage, and has continued without cessation to produce fresh fronds ever since. Ten fresh fronds at present crown its centre; after these are in a sufficient state to warrant them beyond danger of hurt by exposure in a cooler house, the plant shall be removed from the case in the stove to one in a greenhouse.
Among the various requirements necessary to healthy development, these are two of the chief. Like all the other members of the filmy kind, T. superba delights in a compost of an open porous nature, with plenty of drainage. This soil is composed of the following ingredients: of chopped-up Sphagnum moss two parts, one part silver-sand, part in lumps and part pounded; one part turfy peat, chopped up; these are well mingled together: the soil is then in a condition to use. Shallow Achimenes pots are to be preferred to the others, as they afford better scope to provide for neck-roots - width, not depth, being most required. The pots and crocks ought to be scrupulously clean, then potting may be performed - first, by placing in the pan about 2½ inches of broken pots; ½ inch of Sphagnum moss, to keep the drainage free; next follow, in course, enough of the compost to hold the crown of the plant well above the rim of the pot - indeed, the upper portion of the neck-roots ought to form a sudden slope from the plant down to the body of the soil after they are spread out and covered by the mixture.
Having done the potting, the plant ought to be well watered at the root, and at once returned to its case in the stove, admitting air copiously and constantly from the interior - shading, of course, in all seasons while the sun shines, excepting in the depth of winter, when blinks of sunshine will be beneficial.
Soft, clean, tepid water must constantly be administered, both by sprinkling overhead and root-waterings. On no account let the soil get dry, and see that perfect provision has been provided for a ready outlet to the water given: stagnant water and soured soil are certain death to most plants, sooner or later.
In conclusion, I may remark, dew the fronds by a fine rose frequently in dry hot weather, not even omitting one dewing daily in dull days. The foregoing hints apply with equal propriety to T. pel-lucida, T. Fraseri, etc, as well as to exotic Hymenophyllums.