Spring greetings from Harlow Carr! About 3-4 years ago a young gardener by the name of Tom Cutter asked me what my favourite fern was, but I couldn’t answer, there are too many, it was like asking me who was my favourite pet! So after all this time I have an answer Tom, Its Phegopteris connectilis, the Beech Fern! I have waited to write this blog now since I was kindly asked to write a few for the website, as I knew then it’s a wonderful native gem! I don’t know if this is too simple of a choice as it doesn’t shout any great colours or other features but its simplicity makes it great! And in addition finding it growing wild on damp slopes in Yorkshire has been a great treat.
Here are some its aesthetic features I adore, its blade rises above a tall stem that seems too thin and fragile to carry it. It reminds me of when a puppy is growing into its gangly long legs. The blade itself is of a soft green hairy texture and is a triangular shape with the lower part of the frond sticking out upwards away from the rest of the frond which is a unique feature. Overall it’s a delicate fern with a soft appearance and texture. We grow it here in moist shady areas where the soil is loose so that its wiry rhizomatous growth can creep through and get established. After a short time it can create a loose lovely airy groundcover in a way. Most groundcovers can be dense in nature so finding one that is unobtrusive adds a softer texture to woody areas. We have been utilizing it here to grow amongst spring bulbs and other short season plants, so that once they are finished the P. connectilis takes its place, but never really dominates it and strangles out the spring plants. One such plant it has been growing is Trilliums where the two leaf shapes contrast with one another wonderfully. This past autumn we lifted several clumps and divided out the rhizomes, we made sure we had a few growth points and potted them on to gain root. We recently placed them out and planted them with some Trillum simile to become a carpet in the area when they are finished flowering.
So finally there it is, a favourite fern of mine, however I hope I’m allowed to have a few favourites and hope I discover many more along the way!