Ascog Hall Fernery, Isle of Bute, 21 April 2015

Participants: Derek Christie, Therese Christie, Andrew Ensoll, Bridget Laue, Tim Godfrey, Heather McHaffie, Nadia Russell, Janey Floyd, Liza Downie, Gillian Little, Alastair Wardlaw and Maurice Wilkins)

After several years of uncertainty, the Ascog Hall Victorian Fernery on the Island of Bute now seems to have an assured future. The new owners, Karin and Michael Burke, are both very keen gardeners while admitting they are on a steep learning curve about ferns (aren’t we all in some way?). Today’s visit by 12 BPS members was organised as a working party.
We caught the 10.15h ferry from Wemyss Bay, arrived at Ascog about an hour later and got stuck into weeding, trimming, thinning-out and identification. We also brought a goodly number of ferns to enhance the collection. Mostly they went into the ‘Fern Walk’, an outside boggy area where there is a magnificent Dicksonia antarctica with 3.5-metre fronds.
The Ascog Fernery was originally constructed in Victorian times but eventually fell into decay. It was rescued in the 1990s by the late Wallace and Kath Fyfe who preceded the present owners. Scottish Natural Heritage helped fund the restoration. A massive restocking of the fernery was then done by RBGE through David Mitchell in 1997. In today’s working party, RBGE was represented by Andy Ensoll who had done further restocking in 2005.
The jewel in the Ascog crown, dating from the 1880s, is a massive specimen of Todea barbara. The caudex is the height and bulk of a head-high domestic fridge. It is believed (plausibly) to be around 1000 years old and to be the oldest fern in Britain. It was in very good condition, as were the numerous tree ferns originally from RBGE: Cibotium scheidei, Cyathea australis, C. dregei, C. lunulata, C. smithii, Dicksonia, antarctica, D. fibrosa, and D. squarrosa. There was long-established Culcita macrocarpa, Trichomanes speciosum, Blechum cycadifolium and Woodwardia radicans. Nephrolepis caudata and Pyrrosia lingua were spreading in an abundance demanding thinning and potting up for plant sales.
We had a splendid picnic lunch laid on by Karin Burke under a blazing sun, and eventually and reluctantly caught the 16.00h ferry back to the mainland. James Merryweather has an enthusiastic article about the Ascog Fernery in Pteridologist 4 (2); 51-53, 2003. There is more information on the websites of Ascog and BPS.

Photos: Derek Christie, text: Alastair Wardlaw

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