Ian Unsworth, BPS member and fern grower based near Morecombe Bay in Lancashire, is now the proud custodian of a National Plant Collection of Athyrium filix-femina cultivars.
His collection began in the early 1990’s when he obtained specimens of, now rare, cultivars from Reginald Kaye’s nursery at Silverdale, including Athyrium filix-femina ‘Acrocladon’.
Ian applied to Plant Heritage to allow him to officially hold this collection which means he is fulfilling an important role in maintaining and conserving this special group of plants for the nation. His collection in Lancashire marries well with another national plant collection holder of Athyrium filix-femina cultivars in West Sussex, each grower holding different cultivars.
As we are not having any meetings up to the end of June, if not longer, I thought it would be nice to send out a sporadic newsletter to keep in touch with some topical tips.
If any of you have anything to add please let me know.
I assure you my maths are better than my English so apologise to those of you who cringe at my spelling and grammar.
All pictures in this letter were taken two days ago in my Garden.
If you have not done so already I would take any rapping off your tree ferns as they are on the moving, even were I am in the bottom of the Holmesdale valley were we are surprisingly cold. But keep some fleece on hand to drape over them just in case we have a late frost
This picture is from a Dicksonia antarctica two days ago.
It is also surprising how the wind has dried up the trunk and how dry it is underneath.
So I have had to start watering the trunks as the roots of the tree fern start at the crown and run down into the ground
No need to worry in the summer watering into the crown in fact it helps, but this time of year try to keep the centre of the crown dry if you feel you will get any frost at night.
Removing old fronds
It is a matter of how tidy you are
Some people like to leave the old fronds of Polystichum on as they suppress weeds and form a ground cover but there are some diseases that would be encouraged by this so I like to remove them as it is easier and quicker now before the growth really gets going but those of you in warmer areas it is urgent as they are moving fast.
The ‘Plumoso-multilobum’ and the ‘Plumoso-divisilobum’ if you do no others they would benefit.
I found that some crowns had come up out of the ground with time, so lifted them with a lump of soil and replanted them with there crown back in contact with the soil but not buried.
Harts tongues Asplenium scolopendrium
The new growth on these is very brittle and I usually remove the old fronds when the new frond are like cotton buds but with this warm weather they are moving very fast
I remove the old fronds as fungal diseases can make a mess of “Scollies” and I like to remove anything that will pass on anything.
Due to having a number of trees I do feed my ferns with a light scattering of Chicken poo pellets as I feel the ferns get some of it but most is sucked up by the trees and then mulch if you have anything to put on top.
Difficult at the moment for those of us who do not have access to mulch.
Lady ferns (Athyrium filix femina) and the Dryopteris I have removed the old fronds and were needed dropped them deeper in the ground.
Polypodium I leave these to shed there frond when they are ready not a good idea to remove them too early unless you have them under glass and keep them watered
Remember you can move ferns any time between March and October as long as the roots are in active growth but Athyrium are a bit moody if moved late in the year.
Steve Coleman and I were talking and he reminded me that Athyrium filix femina ‘Acrocladon’ and Athyrium ff ‘Victorea’ ( green stemmed) is always late into grow so don’t panic!. Only a few of my lady ferns in the garden have started yet.
If you are a bit of a fern collector, a rare opportunity has arrived in that a Dutch nursery that specialises in more interesting ferns. Who usually sells at shows in Europe only is now doing mail order, his name Wouter van Driel get his latest availability by email
Also Fibrex nurseries and Crawford Hardy Ferns are still sending out ferns mail order.
Araiostegia perdurans planted last Autumn on a old tree fern trunk Robert from Penrith gave me.
It has survived frost out side all winter and is now shooting. I will let you know how it gets on.
The great Tim Pyner ( sorley missed) said to me of course its hardy it deciduous.
Also on the tree fern trunk and planted at the same time is Pyrrosia similis (some tell me it is a form of Pyrrosia lingua ) .In the Nederland’s they have been growing this fern out side for years
Once again this has been outside in my cold garden all winter ,My garden is a lot colder than Liverpool!
The Nederland’s had -5°c 2 weeks ago
A very rare fern grown from spore from Athyrium felix femina ‘Acrocladon’. Found by Monkman on the edge of the north Yorkshire Moors in 1860. Growing in my greenhouse
The spore came off a plant in Ian Unsworth’s garden which we believe is the last in existence unless you know better?
I have 3 sporlings all subtly different and a crown from Ian
Hope you found this useful and interesting,
If there is anything else you would like covered please let me know
Please keep safe Julian
I inherited this plant from the estate of Graham Ackers. I have had it for about 10 years but I don’t know how old it was before I got it. As far as I remember this is the first time it has produced spores
I am a gardener at Leith Hall garden and estate, owned by the National Trust for Scotland. For those of you who are not familiar with Leith Hall, it was built in 1650 and was the home of the Leith-Hay family for nearly three hundred years until 1945. Situated at Kennethmont, about seven miles off the A96 at Huntly in Aberdeenshire, Leith Hall has a beautiful south facing walled garden which is the Trust’s highest altitude garden at 186m above sea level and the furthest north at a latitude of 57.358147N. It overlooks the surrounding Aberdeenshire countryside and can have quite extremes of weather from high temperatures such as 23C a couple of weeks ago down to a previously recorded temperature of -28C. As well as expanses of lawns, trees, extensive herbaceous borders, an orchard, a kitchen garden, a formal garden and woodland areas, tucked away at the far end of the garden behind the very large rockery and pond is an outdoor fernery.
As with many large estate gardens there is always something that needs to be done (more often than not weeding) so it is inevitable that some areas of the garden get a bit neglected at times which is the case of our fernery. It has been pretty much left to its own devices over the past few years to the point that certain ferns have taken over and are in need of a bit of a cull. When I arrived at Leith hall just over a year ago and discovered the fernery, I was immediately taken with it. The main part of the fernery sits in a rock lined pathway cut in to the hillside with more ferns surrounding it at ground level above. I love ferns but I am by no means a fern expert so I feel like I’ve had a self-inflicted crash course in fern identification over the past few months. After coming across an old list of ferns compiled by members of the BPS back in 2014 when they visited the garden to help the then Head Gardener identify ferns, I decided to get stuck in to the job. My first task was to try to identify all the 21 ferns on the list as previous labels had either disappeared over time or had faded to the point they could no longer be read. Thankfully someone had written notes on the list to give me an idea of the location of each fern which was a huge help. As well as identifying existing ferns it will then be a case of removing unwanted growth and tidying up the area to make way for some new ferns to add to the collection and it is a large area to be cleared of overgrown weeds – a bit of a daunting task. Many of the ferns here are very mature and the male and lady ferns have taken over a bit so quite a few of these will be removed to reduce their numbers – I now refer to them as the fern thugs.
The first fern I went looking for from the list was Osmunda Regalis, a fern you would think you could spot a mile off given its majestic appearance and size. I confess however that I had been oblivious to it hidden under a large rhododendron behind a huge clump of bamboo and surrounded by weeds and other planting. A fern that beautiful needs to be more visible but It’s obviously fairly happy where it is with its feet right next to the water run off channel from the pond so I was reluctant to dig it up and move it to a more visible location. Therefore, I had to do something about its surroundings and after removing a lot of undergrowth and branches we now have a much more visible Osmunda Regalis, and a much tidier looking rhododendron. Next on the list was Cryptogramma crispa, the parsley fern. I searched the location it was suppose to be in and couldn’t find it. I went back several times over a period of a few days and eventually found it smothered under some rosebay willow herb along with a rambling geranium and oxalis growing through it. The Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ was also there right next to the parsley fern, similarly over run with weeds. Nearby there is a beautiful mature fern too which I love for its very lacy appearance. This particular fern is quite large and seems to enjoy being in sun all morning but I have no idea what it is. I tried crushing the foliage to see if it had a scent but I’m getting nothing. A few people have looked at photos of it but no one yet has been able to identify it so if anyone can figure out what it is from the photos I would love to know so I can add it to our list. At the moment it’s referred to as the mystery fern. The area these ferns are in has now had a bit of a tidy up but I am left with the dilemma. Do I dig up the Cryptogramma and Athyrium niponicum ferns to try to separate them from the roots of the weeds and hopefully prevent them being overrun again or, do I try to remove a section of each fern and relocate them to an area that has been cleared of weeds to see if they root and survive. Maybe I can then go back and tackle to original ferns and their weed problem once I know the transplanted sections are surviving? Not being a fern expert I’m not sure how either of these ferns will respond to being dug up to separate them from the weeds. If anyone out there can advise I would be very grateful. In the mean time I keep plucking the weeds out when I see them pushing their way through the ferns. The whole of the area around the parsley fern was also over run with Gymnocarpium dryopteris and Phegopteris connectilis, both ferns I want to keep but both need to be reduced a bit. Over the past couple of weeks’ we have managed to remove the equivalent of a couple of square meters of the Gymnocarpium but it is not an easy task. The roots are so extensive that it has been like trying to lift and roll up a very thick rug to get it all out then go back and pull out any bits of root left behind. I’m hoping it won’t grow back anytime soon and the aim it to try to confine it to a few small areas. Not sure how that will work but I do like a challenge!
My next task will be to work on the area immediately above the fernery to clear it of weeds and unwanted shrubs to make way for new ferns and other plants. It’s a bit of a fine line between wanting to get control over the planting in the area but also trying to keep it looking natural so although some areas will get quite a drastic makeover other parts especially in the main section of the rock lined fernery will be left looking more natural with some of the smaller ferns mingling with each other and a few thugs removed. Hopefully I can tell you more about the new additions in the near future as well as more on our existing ferns, workload and weather permitting. Stay tune
The BPS stand at Southport Flower Show won a Gold Medal again this year. Thank you very much to Michael Hayward who organised it, and to all the helpers who put up, manned, and took down the stand.
Robert Crawford won the Individual Challenge BPS cup for his collection of eight ferns. Alison Evans won the Happiland Trophy for the most 1st prizes in the other fern classes.
Michael is retiring from organising the stand, after doing it for many years. We are in need of volunteers to take over the various tasks that Michael has previously done all on his own. I’m delighted to say that Michael will still be involved in providing plants for the display – and will be around to support the people who take over. It is great fun, and a good way to be involved and learn about ferns.
Brian’s son, Colin, has sent the following message to me:
“We are sad to announce that Brian Russ died on Saturday 10th August having been admitted to Southport and Formby General Hospital earlier that day. He had a massive heart attack at 10:20 in the evening and the medical staff were unable to resuscitate him.
He was a long time member of the society (from 1999) and also a life vice president of the Alpine Garden Society.
His funeral will be held on Tuesday 20th August at 10:30am at St Michael’s Church in Aughton, Ormskirk, Lancashire. Family flowers only but any donations to Guide Dogs for the Blind.”
On a personal note, I would like to add that I knew Brian through the Alpine Garden Society, long before we both joined the BPS in 1999. His Alpine Garden Society stand was always next to the BPS stand at Southport Show, where there was a friendly rivalry, and several members of the BPS received some lovely ferns from Brian. He also won the Fern classes in the amateur growers’ competition on several occasions. He will be very much missed.
Two of us met Sue Roberts, Greenspace Officer for Tameside Council, at Lymefield Garden Centre, Broadbottom, 33/996935, for a working day with the volunteers. An enormous amount of work has gone on at the fernery since our visit last September. The area beyond the first part of the fernery has been cleared and landscaped, creating many new planting areas. A new retaining wall on the river side of the plot already looks like it has been there for years, and has some small wall ferns in it. After a tour of the site and some discussion as to what ferns would do well in each section, Henry and Alison got to work planting – the easy part really! We were delighted to see John and Anne Grue, who came for a tour of the fernery and a chat with the volunteers, before joining us in the garden centre café for lunch. After lunch, we planted the remaining ferns, but there are still plenty of spaces to fill. If you have any spare healthy hardy ferns that you could donate to the fernery, please let Mike Canaway know on ManchesterNorthMidlands@ebps.org.uk
The first picture shows the retaining wall of my patio with my neighbours garage wall behind it
The second picture shows the gap (about 7 inches) between my retaining wall and the garage
As you can see from the debris that has fallen down this gap, I don’t look down it very often. However, I did look a few months ago and noticed that several Asplenium scolopendriums and one plant that could be Asplenium adiantum-nigrum had spored themselves in this gap
In 2008 I had the whole garden rebuilt and the retaining wall was raised by about 18 inches. The plants seem to be growing at the base of where the addition to the retaining wall was built
Having a further look more recently, I realised that one of the “scolopendriums” looked odd. On closer examination, I began to suspect this plant was actually Asplenium sagittatum Asplenium sagittatum is a fern that has a Mediterranean distribution, and I have seen it in Mallorca and Menorca. I have had a small plant growing unhappily in my conservatory for several years and I have to suppose that its spores made it outside. The outside plant is doing much better than the sad thing living in my conservatory.
The forth picture shows the sori and how they continue down into the lobe, which is typical of this species but not of A. scolopendrium
There are about 5 A. scolopendriums growing in the gap and possibly 3 A. sagittatums
I have sent these pictures to Fred Rumsey and he agrees with me that these plants look like Asplenium sagittatum
For the record, we get winter temperatures of -8C
I have some pictures of A. sagittatums from Menorca on my website
Last Monday four of us met in Peterborough – Peter Blake (Treasurer), Peter Grimbly (Finance Officer), Ann Robbins (Membership Secretary), Alison Evans (President and retiring Membership Secretary) – to discuss our roles and to see how we can best support each other. Our finance team now have robust and efficient methods of managing our accounts and producing reports. Thank you to Peter Grimbly, who has stepped into the new post of Finance Officer, bringing his Excel skills amongst many others. He and Peter Blake have written their job descriptions, making clear the responsibilities of each, which will make life much easier for their successors in post.
A big thank-you also to Ann, who has brought her organisational and database skills to the role of Membership Secretary. You will probably remember that it was Ann who organised our very successful stand at Chelsea in 2016 – no mean feat! Ann has already been busy preparing mailing files and sending out reminders. I’m sure that you will give her the same great support as you gave to me as Membership Secretary.
I’m also delighted to welcome Sophie Walwin, our new Publicity and Communications Officer, who has already made good use of our social media platforms, and is helping us with our promotional material, as well as reviewing our communications with members. Sophie has lots of good ideas about how we can raise the profile of the BPS, and appeal to people of all ages!
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.