All posts by Aimee Beth Browning

Tree fern watering Support

At Harlow Carr we have been in the middle making an Exotic garden full of great foliage plants, it will also serve as a Secret Garden with lush plantings, a small glass house and arches for vines to grow with a winding pathway that takes you through it all. Among the plants will be some Tree ferns with some great mature trunks that will gives that mystery and adventure a Exotic garden can have. However with this lack of rain we have been receiving over the last couple of months we are a bit worried they may be in a bit of a shock. So Horticulturalist Russ Watkins came up with the idea of wrapping the trunks with hessian fabric to maintain a bit of the moisture and also keep them cooler. This also helps when there is a high demand for other plants needing water at the moment around the garden and a small task force at hand. So far so good and they seem to be maintaining their moisture, fingers crossed!

Tree Fern with Burlap/Hessian Wrapping for moisture retention

A Regal fern Shadow

Another experiment at Harlow Carr this year is placing more ferns right in the flood zone in our new streamside bed.  After seeing what has survived our wet winter with the flooding that took place in parts, I’m going back in to other areas to see how much further I can push a fern! This time I am putting one right on its own island next to a rock edge that I built up with stone. During dryer months it wont see much water but could be potentially submerged in storms for good parts of the winter. I am trying this with a  Osmunda regalis ‘Purpurascens’. Already its mature, so I’m hoping this helps.  Its my hope that these plantings at the waters edge will green up and soften the stone. In addition the idea is to also see if it aids in slowing the storm water down a bit as the sediment builds up around them creating more space to grow into. Though if this specimen does take to its new home, I will have to keep it to a smaller size as they

Osmunda regalis ‘Purpurascens’ Shadow

can grow to a respectable size.

But to my surprise what I didn’t take into account is the awesome shadow that takes place on the stone behind it. I do hope others will be able to see this from afar! This majestic fern has always been one to watch through the seasons at all its stages of growth.

Osmunda regalis ‘Purpurascens’ by waters edge

Dryopteris crassirhizoma in the garden

Dryopteris crassirhizoma is a fern I am impressed with every year in the garden and this year I was determined to give it its due attention. Its one of the earliest ferns to come up at Harlow Car and has a wonderful lime green tinge that always shines in that soft spring light that comes through the branches of the trees. Its illuminated! But even more I love it for its sturdiness. It has a soft appearance that is carried on a thick dark coloured rachis full of scales. Its also impressed me growing so close to tree roots as well as surviving drought conditions at the bases of these trees.  Its defiantly one I would like to consider more to create a back bone to a bed in the future!


Dryopteris crassirhizoma in spring light
Dryopteris crassirhizoma in a group

Autumn colour of a Favourite

Lastly for today a quick mention of some Autumn colour of a fern that I’ve cheered about in a past post. I claimed earlier this year Phegopteris  connectilis to be my favourite fern and today I discovered its lovely autumn colour! Planted with a still going strongly green Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata The King’ it stands out. It also contrasts well with the purple colour of Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ and the blue shades of Cheilanthes lanosa.

Its defiantly won my heart now completely.


Fern planting in Containers

This is just a quick look at some ferns that were planted in some pots for the summer season at Harlow Carr. They did so exceptionally well its encouraged me to try more ferns in pots in the future.

They are in an area of the garden that’s shady and damp and were providing some lower level planting under some Acer palmatum trees in the pots.

I used some lush Polystichum munitum for a deep leathery contrast against some bright green Adiantum fern. The Adiantum is a houseplant species, chosen for its longer fronds and peachy tinge it wont survive outside this winter but will be lifted out very soon! I should mention the lovely Acer was ‘Orange Dream’.

In another pot, Polystichum braunii is planted with some limey green and red stem Athryrium otophorum var. okanum and Adiantum capillus – veneris. Accompanying all the ferns was a Salaginella sp.that really provided a lovely soft cloud cushion of green!

If or when the pots need to be emptied all the ferns will happily find a home in our woodland! But at the moment I cant bare to take them out!

Polystichum braunii and Athyrium otophorum var. okanum with Selaginella in a container planting
Polystichum munitum and a Adiantum sp. join Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ in a container

A Small Fern Roof

This made me smile, so I wanted to share it! At Harlow Carr we recently installed a couple water fountains for visitors to use. And the creative gentleman responsible for the building, Aidan Pound our Building services manager, had a wonderful idea to make it more garden friendly! He proposed giving it a fern roof! The area this one is located in is shady and damp so its the perfect habitat.  Normally he builds structures with living roofs in sunny areas with bug hotels attached. When he asked for some small ferns I knew right where to go! At this time of the year before Autumn makes all the foliage disappear I weed out all the self sown ferns in the Dryopteris collection and find them new homes! So for this one I gave him some young Aspleniums, Dryopteris and Athyriums with some accompanying Asarum europaeum and Primula veris for contrast.

Its been a great way to help catch water and create a wildlife habitat, as well as inspiring me all the fun ways you can use ferns. It really does make me smile when I see it.

Water Fountain with Green Fern Roof
Bug homes on the side of the fern green roof
The top of the water fountain green roof planted with ferns.


Ferns on Streamside at Harlow Carr

Well Its been a while since my last post but its been a busy summer at RHS Harlow Carr on a re-development project along the streamside. and I’m happy to say the first plants to be planted back in are ferns!

The streamside is involved in a ongoing project to strengthen  the eroding steep banks as well as creating pools to deal with the storm water the streamside takes. In this area we have made a new pool to collect water to slow it down to decrease damage further down as well as adding new stone on our steep slopes. This has made some new exciting planting opportunities!

We were also able to tackle a few more of the Skunk Cabbage along the stream. The existing patches in the garden are very old and now we regularly dead head them, dig out any seedlings and plants where we can. However, the older the patch the deeper they go so having a digger on site has helped us tremendously to decrease the population of this invasive plant. Gardener and Digger driver Craig finessed his way around tree roots to get them out with a 8 ton digger! Though I must add and give credit to fellow Gardener Sam who dug down deep enough by hand to clear some away and create a whole new area! This led to Gardener James planting a wonderful drift of Woodwardia fimbriata, the Giant Chain Fern, which though is slow to grow here at Harlow Carr I hope it will be happy in its new damp home.

Before the digger came I went on a fern rescue mission! Digging up any naturally sown ferns I could find, and in the hot summer keeping them in crates in the stream. These are the first guys back in! The new area is going to be tough, we are now planting back into heavy clay, some of it silver clay. Its also will have some run off issues until it is planted up really well, so ferns as always, will come to the rescue until the soil and site itself begins to settle down. I’m hoping their great matt like roots will hold the soil in place and deal with the heavy moisture content. They  make a wonderful natural accompaniment  to the stone and showcase the natural species around the site.

Overall I hope ferns in this area are utilized not just for their practical characteristics of wet loving and erosion control but also for their aesthetic characteristics. Qualities like diverse textures and shapes, wonderful green lush tones and their ability to pop up and grow in the most unlikely of places that add to a wildness of a streamside!

Removal of the worst Skunk cabbage with digger
The site before we began the pool and digger work
In the middle of digging in the new stone and pool
New planting of Woodwardia where the skunk cabbage came out
One of many crates of ferns saved before the big dig!
Ferns being planted back in to shore up the soil between the stones


Tree Ferns new Home!

The tree  ferns taking shelter in the learning centre have finally been released into the garden at Harlow Carr! You can find them in the Scented garden which will one day become a exotic garden. The moving of these magic beasts took a few staff  members with a lot of cooperation and some muscle! We hope they settle into their home really well!

moving the fern outside

Travel to site by trailer

Placing the ferns

Planting the ferns

Their new home!

May Blog 2019

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!