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.
Make the box in any form you may desire; let it be about six inches deep; this should be well painted inside and out. At one end, in the bottom, insert a small faucet or wooden plug, to allow the water to pass off if necessary. Put in the bottom about two inches of drainage - -it may be broken brick, cinders, or anything of a porous nature, that will absorb water or allow it to pass through freely. Cover the drainage with decayed sod or moss, to prevent the soil from mingling with it, and on this put as much good compost as the box will hold, composed of sand, loam and leaf-mould, about equal parts. In this soil may be planted a variety of plants of small growth, according to taste. The upper portion consists of a permanent framework of wood (black walnut looks well), or it may be made of iron or zinc. It had better be glazed on all sides and top. The frame may rest in a groove sunk in the box.
Give the plants a good watering, then put the frame on, and they will not require any more for many weeks. The frame should be taken off for half an hour every morning to admit air, but do not let a cold draught strike them. For ferns and mosses, it will not be necessary to remove the top oftener than once a month.
After these general remarks, it will be well to give a more detailed description of the mode of treatment best adapted for ferns and mosses, and these are more generally grown in this way than other plants.
It must be borne in mind that ferns, although they like a moist atmosphere, cannot thrive when their roots are in water; hence, to obtain the best results, they must have good drainage. Then, a frequent sprinkling over the fronds will not injure them, but will be rather beneficial. They delight in a compost of leaf-mould, well decayed, and a little sand.
In a fern Case of two or three feet in diameter, there is room for a great deal of taste to be displayed, not only in the arrangement of the plants, but in building miniature castles and rock-work. Many of the choicest and most delicate ferns may be placed on these elevations, and will then show to great advantage. Care must be taken dot to overdo the thing by putting in too many ornaments. Anything that is glased or highly colored will be out of place, and will be liable to detract from the quiet beauty of the little fernery.
The best material for building up the rock work and arches is coke. By making a thin mixture of cement and water, and dipping the coke in, a nice sober brown stone is imitated, which will soon be covered with natural moss,adding much to its beauty. Another article which I have used with good effect is petrified moss. Fine specimens of this may be procured at Danville, and at the Sangamon near at hand.