All posts by Aimee Beth Browning

February at Harlow Carr

Over this winter I have to give credit where credit is due, and it goes to Polypodiums! They have been incredibly valuable during this cold quiet time in the garden, keeping their fronds green and sturdy through the hardest of frosts. They are now starting to turn brown, eventually losing these fronds to be replaced in late spring and summer by fresh new fronds; but with it being February and so many still looking so great, I am impressed. At Harlow Carr it’s been noted that the ones planted in the more sheltered and dryer locations have held their fronds still at their best. We have a small group under a large conifer, keeping them drier with dropped needles and some deciduous leaves nurturing the soil for their roots to creep through. And they are particularly beautiful when frosted, as the spectacular Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’ and P. cambricum ‘Conwy’ have been seen this year.

Over the past two years at Harlow Carr we have been re-evaluating the Polypodium collection, identifying old ones and planting new ones. A lot of the credit goes to Julian Reed from the BPS, for help in identifying old varieties, where his knowledge was instrumental. It was also great fun for me to learn so much from him during the process. We have planted quite a few new ones this past year, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow over the next year! Some I am particularly excited about are the unique P. glycyrrhiza ‘Longicaudatum’ with long tail-like fronds, and P.cambricum ‘Macrostachyon’ with a stout basal frond.  I expect there will be so many others, which I hope to share my enthusiasm for over the next year!

January at Harlow Carr

Greetings from a wintery cold Harlow Carr! Thankfully we are holding our annual spore sowing classes at the moment, which allows us to stay in the warmth inside! It’s that time of the year when spores are available to BPS members and each year I do a short demo for students. I learned a method from other fern enthusiasts where I can sow the spores in a setting that is not a sterile laboratory and can be done almost anywhere. With help from literature from the BPS we have had a few good batches, using materials such as small pots, well drained soil, boiling water, microwave and cling film.

I label each pot by writing directly on each one with a paint marker, as they sit for quite a long time and sometimes labels can fade.                      

I use a non-chemical method to sterilize our soil and pots, which I’ve had some success with by running boiling water over the soil and then also microwaving the pot with its soil in for a minute. This kills off any unwanted bacteria, moss, fungus and other elements, as well as providing the moisture they will need.

After a day of cooling we sow our spores by tipping out our perfectly folded envelopes from the BPS spore exchange onto the soil surface. Without touching the soil, we then wrap them in cling film to keep moisture in and keep out unwanted guests. These pots are then kept under a glasshouse bench, out of direct sunlight for between six months to a year, before a moss-like growth begins to appear, which are the first stages of fern growth cycle.

It’s quite some time before I prick any out, as I let them fill their pots and keep each other in good company before meddling with them and introduce any fungal spores, as well as waiting for a time when they are large enough for my big hands to handle them! I prick them out into groups or patches, and later, as they grow more, prick out the largest ones that survive.

Sowing spores has been a rewarding method to learn and practice, as well as being good fun, in that they can be done at home or in a setting that isn’t completely sterile, something which has encouraged me to experiment and realise you don’t always need professional equipment to take on a challenge. Witnessing the whole process of something that looks smaller than dust becoming a plant still retains that magic and wonder for me each time. The amount of sporelings you can get is also amazing, so for restoration projects it’s a valuable technique. Even more, seeing ferns like Adiantum or a Asplenium or a Cheilanthes (there are so many!) with their first true fronds in miniature, is actually very special and beautiful! So enjoy and have fun with your spores and sporlings!


News from Harlow Carr

Hello from RHS Garden Harlow Carr ( in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. My name is Aimee Beth Browning and I am a BPS member and one of the gardeners here at Harlow Carr, where I’ve worked for 8 years. I primarily work on the woodland edge and streamside, especially in areas of shade where I can explore my love for ferns! We have a Dryopteris collection here which I help care for, with an ever growing diverse collection of ferns! I am learning loads with help from the invaluable knowledge of the BPS and a lot of trial and error!

Seasonally, each year I put some ferns to bed! Being in the North of England our temperatures do drop but we also combat quite a bit of rain at times, so these are the two things I keep in mind when planting particular ferns, as well as which to cover or bring under shelter. Our Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns I cover in November. I’ve chosen a method that I hope fits into the landscape a little bit as well as utilizing some natural materials. They are a funny shape and get a bit of attention, but it is also my intention that these structures will provide a wildlife habitat over the winter months. Within the teepee-like structure the crown and trunk are covered and wrapped lightly with horticultural fleece. Everything is done lightly so as not to increase the possibility of heat and humidity in our fluctuating temperatures. Once covered, I do not cut off the amazing long fronds but utilize them by bending them and layering them over one another and tying them with twine around the trunk, thereby creating another layer to protect them from frost and excessive winter wet. Over this another layer of pervious shade fabric and then the wonderful layering of nature’s supplies! I cut back the neighbouring Dryopteris and Athyrium species that are going autumnal for the season and wrap them with twine and add sticks to hold in place. These I don’t completely uncover until after Easter when all unpredictable frosts are done here, though I gradually take some layers off as the temperatures rise making sure the crown and trunk always have some cover. I admit that each year I will always be a tad nervous that a serious winter may take them out!

Another fern I cover for winter are our Cheilanthes lanosa, the Hairy Lip fern. It comes from the South West of North America in states like Arizona and New Mexico, therefore it really dislikes the winter wet here! For 3 years now, with luck, ours have survived by covering with some perspex plastic, which I drill holes in and prop up with wire stakes, making sure the crown is covered. One also has been planted in and under the shelter of a cluster of stones.

My challenge this season I fess up to is trialling Pellaea rotundifolia outside this winter. I have also covered it with perspex. So, fingers crossed, one may survive!

Please come to visit the ferns!!