n 1848, botanist Thomas Moore published a book called A Handbook of British Ferns Intended as a Guide and Companion in Fern Culture. His book touched off a fever for ferns among Victorians, who then planted fern gardens called “ferneries.” The fern craze was so intense that it got a name: pteridomania (so-called because ferns are in the Division Pteridophyta), and lasted into the 1870s. If you have a Boston fern hanging in a window, it’s because of pteridomania.
“Everything old is new again,” and I have caught fern fever, and have cool, green reveries about all things pteridological (whoah, my spell checker is starting to smoke). Fern fever is so much pleasanter than most illnesses, as you need take no pills. I am already thinking ahead to next spring, mulling over where the fernery will go in my garden, and where I can get a wrought iron, fern-frond bench that costs less than $5,000. Until then, working on fern-related craft projects will have to do me until planting the real ferns begin.
Moore’s book has digitally archived, and can be read, page by page at the California Digital Library.
Ferns are indispensable in the shade garden, and if your shade garden seems blah, they can liven it up, as they bring a touch of wildness with them. I always hesitate to recommend ferns such as the ostrich fern (see photo above), because basically it teeters on the edge of being invasive. I definitely would not put such a fern, which is the type usually found at plant exchanges, in a neat, carefully planned shady border, nor would I waste good soil on it. I have my ferns under a pear tree, where they are hemmed in by other plants.
If you do have a nice, planned shade garden, consider the painted ferns. These are on the small side, and their icy colors look great with other shade perennials. These need soil of at least average moisture, and are not thrilled to be in dry shade.
Another wonderful fern, though I hesitate to mention it, is the ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). I hesitate to mention it because I was allowed to dig up a plant from a wild area on the property of my sister-in-law’s mom and know of no commercial source. It always seemed like a perfectly nice fern, but it wasn’t until some years ago that it proved its worth, which is that it’s amazingly drought resistant.