This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
"Ferns," or " filices," (so called from their beautiful forms,) have many claims on public attention, and it is very gratifying to know that all those who have any pretension to good taste in matters pertaining to gardening are beginning to recognize their great beauty. The day is not very remote when Ferns will be considered as among the most indispensable of plants to give effect to and grace the scenery of the garden, as well as for the green and hot house.
Not only are they becoming objects of peculiar interest to the amateur and florist, but equally so to the landscape gardener. This assertion may cause some to doubt whether plants of such humble growth, and withal so common, can be brought to bear any part in and give effect to any scene created by the landscape gardener.
Within a few years, or since what is called the natural style of gardening has become fashionable, the cry of the landscape gardener has been, Imitate nature. If, then, this maxim is to be carried out, let us visit the beautiful wilds of nature with which this country abounds, and there study the effect produced, not only by the giants of the forest, but by every tree and shrub, ay, by every procumbent plant, however humble its pretensions, and lest they should not arrest our attention sooner, let us take particular notice what part our humble but beautiful ferns bear in our wild woodland scenes. I fearlessly assert, that no one with any pretensions to good taste in landscape gardening can visit such scenes, and therein read nature's volume, without receiving many useful and important lessons, such as can not be attained in any seminary or college in existence. While visiting any fern-clad vale, and surrounded by their elegant forms and fragrance, let us decide whether they are not fit and proper subjects to add grace and beauty to any scene adapted by nature, or otherwise, to their requirements.
Ferns are ill adapted for any fantastical display; for such a purpose they are entirely out of place. If, then, we are to imitate nature, let not this be overlooked. If, on the other hand, we use our beautiful native species for the decoration of those portions of our gardens where they are not out of place and character, they will be found to add a charm and elegance to the same, and without them a deficiency must exist.
But to enter into details upon their adaptability for the adornment of the landscape is hot my present purpose. My object is to notice some of the more prominent species and varieties, with their modes of culture in the green and hot house, portable plant-cases, and the rookery.
I will commence my remarks with a few of those which require the temperature of the green-house, prominent among which is the Scolopendrium, or Hart's Tongue, Scolopendrium vulgarum, Scolopendrium officinarum of Swartz, Asplenium scolopendrium of Linnaeus, Phyllitis scolopendrium of Newman. In a quaint old herbal, bearing date 1597, Gerard tells us that decoctions made from this fern "doth open the hardnesse and stoppings of the spleen and liver, and all other griefs," etc. At the present day, it does not figure in any of our pharmacopoeias. It is a beautiful evergreen Fern, a native of Britain and this country. It is said by Wood to grow upon shady rocks at Chittenango, New York, to which vicinity it appears to be entirely confined, which is remarkable, inasmuch as it is very soriferous, and very distinct in its character.
In its native habitat throughout Europe, in dry and rocky locations, it grows small, not more than from six to eight inches in height; but in low, damp places, ravines, etc., its fronds may be frequently found from two to three feet in length, drooping from the rizoma in the most elegant and graceful curves. The treatment of the genus Scolopendrium is very simple: a soil containing an abundance of vegetable matter, such as decayed wood leaves, etc., with about one fourth of loam, with plenty of drainage in the pots, placed in a very shady part of the green-house or fernery, with a damp atmosphere, it will grow luxuriantly, and soon become a magnificent object, equaling in beauty the much-admired Bird's Nest Fern, Asplenium nidus, a native of New Holland.
I am unacquainted with any Fern that has sported so many and elegant varieties as the Scolopendrium vulgarum, some of which are of the most extraordinary and beautiful characters imaginable, altogether unlike the original species. It is most interesting and instructive to witness the different forms they assume under cultivation. There are upward of sixty varieties which have received names, many of which are exceedingly variable, while others are quite permanent in their developments, and can be reproduced by spores, which they produce in countless millions. A few of the most beautiful of the varieties are as follows:
One of the most interesting and beautiful. The two edges of the frond are elegantly undulated, (crisped,) This variety is very constant under cultivation, but I have never found it in a soriferous state.
A very beautiful variety. The lower portion of the fronds are much like the species, but near the ends they burst out into a reduplication of folds something like the cockscomb. It remains constant in cultivation, and is soriferous.
A most interesting variety, seldom exceeding three inches in height; one of the very best for growing in the portable plant-case. Unfortunately, it is rather scarce.
Avery elegant narrow frond variety, seldom exceeding ten inches in height. It is quite constant under cultivation, and is soriferous.
A strong-growing variety, closely approximating to the normal form. It remains constant under cultivation, and is soriferous.
Of a more humble growth than Polyschides, producing viviparous bulbules upon the upper surface of the fronds, which ultimately become plants. It is constant under cultivation, but I have hitherto failed to discern any sori upon any specimens which have come under my notice.
Close-tufted habit, very fine.
Fronds deeply crenated: fine.
A deep green and fine variety.
One of the most graceful and beautiful varieties: rare.
A compact, dense-growing variety, with beautiful crisped fronds.
[It is only of'late that the availability of Ferns, etc., for ornamental purposes has been to any extent recognized. Mr. Barker has pointed out some of the uses to which they are adapted. We would call attention to them as especially suited to plant-cases for rooms. We can think of no more beautiful object for a parlor. - Ed].