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( Originally Published 1907 )
The deciduous nature of many of our native ferns prohibits general culture indoors. Nevertheless the genuine fern lover who gathers a wild garden outside his door is sure to take ferns inside, for the summer months at least. A few potted ferns will transform the plainest room into a charming retreat.
There is a practical side, however, to be considered, if success is to attend indoor decorative efforts with shy wildlings for material.
Proper selection of species is imperative and can only be determined by experience. Many equally beautiful ferns fail to adapt themselves to a life indoors. Certain species are physically unable to stand the transition from the bracing atmosphere of the great outdoors to the dry air and dewless nights indoors; consequently they wither and die when other ferns flourish with tolerable grace, and often with added beauty because of the greater delicacy of indoor growth.
WHY IMMATURE PLANTS FAIL
Partially developed plants will become distorted in the half light of shaded summer parlours; therefore it is better to wait for the fronds to assume a natural pose and gain strength enough to withstand disturbance before transplanting.
Greater length of service is insured if fructification is not advanced. Aside from the selection of serviceable species, discretion must be used in choosing plants to fit the place assigned; this is not difficult, as ferns in Nature are cropping up in all sorts of places and growth is more or less governed by environment.
For a bracket plant a specimen with drooping fronds is much more graceful than an upright growth of the same species.
A one-sided development is preferable for a corner situation. The more vase-like and perfect the development the better for a jardiniere stand or centrepiece for a table of any kind. Ferns hanging over an old log or other obstruction, or swaying downward with roots anchored to the bank above, are often exactly the right shape for mantel decoration.
RECEPTACLES OF ALL DEGREES
The sort of receptacle to grow our ferns in is a matter of taste. There is a long list to choose from between the ordinary punctured flower pot and the undrained silver fern dish. The more simple and unpretentious the greater the harmony. Birch-bark baskets are always pretty and in keeping with a sense of the fitness of things; they are especially adapted for small ferns. Good-sized jars and boxes may be pressed into service for ferns of larger growth, and, when glorified by a birch-bark cover, are really artistic. An attractive arrangement is a regularly made basket mounted on a tripod of white birch saplings, the bark carefully selected in order to avoid cracks or flaws, for the presence of either means leakage.'
THE PROBLEM OF DRAINAGE
House-grown ferns quickly resent imperfect drainage. Even ferns which grow in swampy lowlands will not thrive in stagnant water' or sour soil. Broken crocks or other porous matter will answer for drainage in the punctured flower pot, but sphagnum or other waste moss should be lavishly used in all others to take up superfluous water which cannot be drained out. Glass fern dishes are preferable to all others, because such dishes lined with a sheet of moss over an inch of pebbles are most artistic. The moss keeps the soil inside from working down, and the pebbles quickly show an overflow of water which may be drained off. It is well to have the sheet of moss large enough to turn over and pin down over the fern roots; this gives a neat finish and prevents too rapid evaporation.
TRIMMINGS FOR FERN DISHES
A most effective finish for the fern dish is the so-called "gray moss," or even a fluted gray lichen. The stiff growth becomes pliable when wet and is then easily adjusted. Just enough should be broken away to allow the fronds to push through without damaging the tender crosiers. This combination of green and gray is very lovely.
In a large jar for ferns, fully a third of the contents should consist of broken porous material with several inches of moss above. Light soil only should be used; often enough is taken up with the ferns to sustain life indoors for months.
Old-fashioned goblets or tumblers are especially dainty fern holders. Empty shells are an aggravation to the fern lover, who longs to stuff a delicate, feathery fern into their pink throats. The slender, graceful bladder fern (Filix) is never seen to better advantage than in some such simple holder. In short, nothing is too good for the service in the eyes of the fern lover, hence gems of the china closet are appropriated in spite of domestic disapproval. Tin boxes can be made to fit any desired space, a strip of birch bark fastened around converting plebian material into something artistic. Anything of this sort should be painted inside to prevent rusting, and birchbark baskets are more desirable if lined with tea lead.
Another pretty device for holding potted ferns of generous growth may be made of a packing box covered with bark and mounted on a rustic standard of the sawhorse style of construction. Such an arrangement is decorative indoors or out, and serves a double purpose if placed on a veranda just ouside of a window. It is always pleasant to look (D. spinulosa, var. intermedia), and is to many eyes more beautiful. No comparison, however, should be made, as they are of distinct types. A fine clump of maidenhair in a bark-covered butter jar appeals to the aesthetic mind more forcibly than any palm in an elaborate jardiniere.
A PLEASING GROUP FOR INDOORS
Here is a good grouping of ferns for a birch basket: The maidenhair and the tall simple fronds of the narrow-leaved spleenwort (As-plenium angusti folium), foiled by dark, glossy fronds of the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), relieved here and there by the bladder fern (Filix bulbi fera). The broad beech fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera) is effective if used only with ferns of lower growth. The pose of the fronds is peculiar. They show to advantage on a platter of moss, where they gracefully stretch a green canopy over lesser growths beneath.
The oak fern (Phegopteris Dryopteris), if taken up early in the season, is pretty in small receptacles and keeps its colour.
We may drape our homes " by the yard," if we tike, with the most graceful and filmy of our common ferns, the bladder fern (Filix bulbi fera). So great is its adaptability that it flourishes not only in sylvan retreats but also in the wild garden at our door and equally well indoors. If plants are taken up early in the season, May or June, they will last through the summer. The root growth is small and requires little soil to maintain it in good condition. If one frond dies another is unfolding to take its place. It may be grown on a platter with mosses or in shallow baskets or shells. Nothing, however, can exceed the simple loveliness of a single plant with a bit of moss in a slender glass.