All posts by Aimee Beth Browning

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!

March at Harlow Carr

Recently at Harlow Carr we are beginning the process of turning a small area of the garden into an Exotic garden, which is located in a sheltered area surrounded by hedges. We are hoping to grow exotic flowers and foliage like plants in here, and in addition Tree Ferns!! We were able to acquire some sustainably sourced, with proper certification attached, Dicksonia antarcticas at a very large size. So it’s been very exciting to watch they’re progress, from they’re arrival when they were dormant and to putting on new growth. They then outgrew their space quickly when their fronds began to emerge and thus moved to our indoor Learning Center with Higher ceilings than our glasshouse! Our hope is to plant them in the garden and cover them up for winter weather and also hope to experiment with growing epiphytes on their trunks! We are very excited about this project ahead!

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!!