This section is from the book "Beautiful Gardens - How To Make Them And Maintain Them", by Walter P. Wright. Also available from Amazon: Beautiful Gardens: How To Make And Maintain Them.
In that cool, shady part of the garden wherein we know that most flowering plants will not thrive, we place our ferns.
We recall the beauty of those caves on the coast of Devon and Cornwall, the roofs of which are laced with beautiful fronds, and resolve that some of the exquisite species we have seen there shall adorn our home fernery. Most graceful, most dainty, are many of these ferns. We cannot imitate the conditions under which they grow, but we can perhaps provide sufficient of the essentials to ensure success.
Contrary to the general impression, it is possible to over-shade some ferns. They might, for example, be planted in a spot so heavily overhung by trees that even the soft, diffused light which ferns so love is denied them. Shade is wanted, but not the dense shade into which light can hardly penetrate.
Another impression that it is wise to traverse is that if ferns are provided with peat they have everything necessary for their welfare. They thrive best in a cool, prepared bed of loam, manure, and peat, with pieces of sandstone for neighbours. It should be near water, as ferns enjoy the humidity which is associated with pools and brooks. Under such conditions as those indicated, combined with shelter from cutting winds, two of the noblest of hardy ferns - the Royal, Osmunda regalis; and the Ostrich, Struthiopteris Germanica - attain to majestic proportions, and become amongst the finest objects of the garden.
It has been mentioned that soft, diffused light is better for hardy ferns than dense shade, and it may be added that some ferns will grow in the sun if their roots are well established in a cool, prepared medium. It is not pretended that they will thrive on dry, poor, hot banks as will Portulacas, but it may be pleasing to some people to know that they need not despair of growing hardy ferns successfully because they cannot provide the ideal position.
In considering the various species from which to make a choice, attention may first be turned to the Adiantums, of which the native Maidenhair, A. Capillus-Veneris, is one of the most familiar examples. It is hardy in the south of England. There are several beautiful varieties of it, which, however, are usually grown in cool houses, as they are not safe out of doors except in the most favoured places. The best known is imbricatum, a really beautiful fern, but one of the least hardy. Magnificum and Mariesi are two other good forms. Another hardy Adiantum is pedatum, and this, too, is worth growing.
The Aspleniums give us some remarkably beautiful ferns, and inasmuch as the lovely Lady Fern and its many varieties, which were formerly called Athyriums, are now classed under Asplenium, the genus has gained greatly in importance. The Black Spleenwort, Asplenium Adiantumnigrum, is a good plant, and still better is its crested form, grandiceps. A. Ceterach, formerly called Ceterach officinarum, is the well-known Scale Fern. Among its varieties ramoso-cristatum may be mentioned.
The Lady Fern has a large and beautiful bevy of varieties in its train, amongst which Barnesii, crispum, dissectum, grandiceps, multifidum, and Victoriae may be named as a select half-dozen. The type might certainly be grown with them, for it is an exceedingly graceful and desirable fern.
Passing on, we have two other good Aspleniums in lanceolatum and its variety crispatum. A. Trichomanes, the Maidenhair Spleenwort, and its two lovely varieties cristatum and incisum, are a valuable trio, but the two last are small and usually grown under glass except in warm localities.
Since the genus Aspidium now includes the old genus Polystichum it cannot be overlooked. A. acrostichoides is good, and its varieties grandiceps and incisum are charming. A. aculeatum, the well-known Hard Shield Fern, is a popular plant, and two good varieties of it are proliferum and vestitum. A. angulare, the Soft Shield Fern, is perhaps even more familiar than its sister. There are many good varieties of this, the most popular being proliferum, which is largely grown in pots. Other good varieties are Elworthii, Kitsoniae, and rotundatum. A. Lonchitis is the distinct and admired Holly Fern.
The genus Lastraea has now been merged in Nephrodium, under which name botanists class the familiar Male Fern, Filix-mas. This gives Nephrodium special importance. Glancing at its hardy species in alphabetical order, we may first mention N. aemulum, the hay-scented Buckler Fern. It has varieties, of which ramosum is one of the best. N. cristatum, the Crested Shield or Buckler Fern, is a pretty species, but uncommon. It has several varieties. N. dilatatum (Lastraea dilatata) is classed by some authorities as a variety of spinulosum. It is a valuable fern, especially if considered in connection with its many beautiful varieties, such as cristatum, Dumetorum, ramosum, and Stansfieldii. N. Filix-Mas is, of course, a power in itself. It would be almost impossible to give a list of all the varieties of the famous Male Fern. There are many scores of them. Barnesii must be mentioned, as also must grandiceps, Ingrami, magnificum, multicristatum, pumilum, and Schofieldii, but these are only a few among many gems. N. fragrans, the Fragrant Wood Fern, is another hardy Nephrodium worth mentioning. N. montanum, the Mountain Buckler Fern, is good, and has several excellent varieties, such as Barnesii and cristatum. N. rigidum thrives on chalky soils. N. spinulosum is the Prickly Shield Fern, a well-known plant.
Osmunda regalis, the Royal Fern, is one of our noblest plants. It should always be tried, together, if possible, with one or other of its varieties, of which gracilis, palustris, and purpurascens may be mentioned.
Fig. The Royal Fern . . Is one of our noblest plants. A Splendid Specimen Of Osmunda Regalis At The Garden House, Saltwood, Hythe
Of the genus Scolopendrium the only really popular species is vulgare, the Hart's Tongue Fern, but this is quite enough to afford the fern lover food for study, inasmuch as there are several hundreds of varieties of it, many of them plants of exquisite beauty. Only a very few can be mentioned here. They are acrocladon, Claphami, Coolingii, crispum, cristatum, fimbriatum, grandiceps, Kelwayi, laceratum, marginatum, and variegatum. Some of these suns have sub-planets of their own, so that there is no lack of diversity.
Struthiopteris Germanica, or Onoclea Germanica as the botanists now call it, is the magnificent Ostrich Fern, which on the margin of water often assumes stately proportions. It cannot be omitted from a selection of hardy ferns, but it is emphatically not a plant for a sunny bank or rockery. It loves a cool bottom, such as the verge of a pond.
Many lovers of hardy ferns like to grow a collection of them in a cool house, either in a specially prepared rock bed or in pots. This has its pleasures, but is outside the scope of the present work.