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( Originally Published 1907 )
FERN culture approaches the ideal when we take the rocks indoors as well as the ferns. The fascination of a rock garden is even greater indoors for those who appreciate the luxury of "pokin' 'round" mid ferns and mosses in midwinter.
If the association of rock and fern is a design in Nature for cooling the atmosphere and retaining moisture for the benefit of the root growth, how imperative the need of such environment indoors, where no refreshing dews counteract the dryness and overheat. Nature gives her choicest ferns a rocky setting, and here as elsewhere we should follow her lead. Lawn rockeries are an old institution, but indoor affairs are not in the regular schedule.
Japanese principles of art are equally applicable to rockwork. Why not a Lilliputian rockery as well as a garden? Anything under seventy-five pounds' weight is practicable, and not in the least formidable. However, the right kind of rock for the purpose is not within the reach of all.
The majority of nature lovers gravitate toward country byways, always replete with treasure of one sort or another for the naturalist. Sooner or later observant eyes find what they seek. If the quest is for rocks, rocks grooved and punctured with alluring pockets will surely protrude from stone wall or stone heap, or perchance an isolated specimen may crop up at our feet and tempt us to extricate a marvellous conglomerate seemingly designed for this special use.
Magnificent quartz crystals like the sixtypound specimen shown in Plate 23 are not met with every day. Something else would answer as well for a beehive in a wall, consequently the original tenants were turned out and the cliff brake moved in. Roomy apartments in the top, grinning fissures at the sides, cosy nooks and pockets here and there, invite the fern culturist to rival Nature if he can.
The foundation of the pretty study is an interesting conglomerate, composed largely of quartz, opaque and transparent, with other heterogenous elements. Although a very good thing as Nature left it, a few touches of Portland cement, with and without odd bits of stone, have added much to the staying qualities of soil and water in certain shallow places which the pose of the rock would otherwise have rendered useless.
Perhaps the most unique and beautiful thing which it has been my pleasure to, handle in this line of work is a dainty gem displayed in Plate 2˘-a poem in stone which not only attracts the eye by its simple beauty but which suggests Nature's greater achievements along the same line, basaltic columns, palisades, rather than a mere fragment of rock dropped by the wayside.
Rocks selected for indoor use should be cemented to a flat base from two to four inches thick. By so doing, the stone itself is not only shown to better advantage but all the lower cavities are made available.
So far as trays for holding indoor rockwork are concerned, there is little choice in the market. If lacquered ware is used it should be lined with tea lead or painted with some rust-proof preparation. Agate ironware is stronger and less likely to bend with the weight upon it when moved. But, whatever the material, the article should be deep enough to catch all drip and roomy enough to admit of an artistic setting, as the frame may enhance or mar the beauty of any picture.
Intelligent and artistic filling of rocks requires time and thought and proper implements and selection of plants for the work. I have discovered that a small spoon is better than a trowel for throwing loose soil into the crevices, and that a hardwood meat skewer makes a practical tamping tool. A quantity of invisible hairpins or fine wire which can be easily cut and bent is imperative for pinning the moss over the fern roots; every plant should be thus carpeted to prevent rapid evaporation of moisture and to beautify both rock and stone as we see it everywhere in Nature.
My stock for filling the beautiful crystal consisted of good specimens of the purple cliff brake (Pellaea atro purpurea), wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria), the maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium Trichomanes), an abundance of walking leaf (Camptosorus rhizophyllus)-comrades all in the limestone cliff-lip fern (Cheilanthes), hart's tongue (Phyllitis), with the common polypody (Polypodium vulgare) and dormant roots of phegopteris complete the fern list. Sundry wild flowers are also in evidence. Mosses galore are essential; a few lichens and a basket of leaf mould mixed with disintegrated limestone are all the material we need ask of Nature.
The combination of walking leaf and wall rue is to my mind particularly pleasing. The splendid roots oŁ the cliff brakes have really more room in this rock and choicer soil than Nature often allows the species out of doors. Seams in the rock insure perfect drainage. Although this last named thrives on little or nothing out of doors, it is certainly appreciative of better conditions.
Every fern on the rock is carefully tamped in, and nearly all are as well supplied with soil and moisture as their out-of-door kin.
The margin of the tray outside the base to which the crystal is cemented is first covered with sphagnum for drainage, a light layer of soil over this, with the thinnest possible suggestion of stone here and there for the benefit of certain fern roots which are to rest thereon. Mats of walking leaf, with the most beautiful mosses the autumn woods can furnish, relieved by wildlings, herb Robert and mitrewort, form an effective setting. Heavier pins are used to fasten on the tray the material used, that no gaps or seams mar its beauty and lessen the chances of growth.
Walking leaf and the cheery little polypody are used chiefly in filling the conglomerate. Both species are properly rock ferns, but Nature is an expansionist, hence her rules are not always arbitrary. The polypody at the right base is growing finely in a soft filling of earth. The walking leaf on the top is the only specimen of its kind that I ever found growing in at least six inches of rich leaf mould. Dormant roots of toothwort (Dentaria diphylla) were in the soil, hence uninvited guests crown the summit with pretty tri-foliate leafage. Lycopodiums are of service, adding another shade or two of freshness and variety to indoor rockwork. Another wildling (Dalibarda repens), with leaves like a violet and flowers of a strawberry, deserves to be better known, as there is nothing more immaculate than its starry white blossoms, which dot the mossy carpet of damp woodlands in midsummer. The plant is easily cultivated.
Two points must be borne in mind in filling any stone: we must follow natural outlines, that is, emphasise natural projections and depressions, and also maintain perfect simplicity by careful selection of few and faultless specimens of whatever species are used.
The graceful droop of an unusually strong wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) on the left is worth remarking; such specimens are never found growing in the open. Lift the branches of the evergreens which sweep low on rocky hillsides. Rare finds await you perchance beneath a brush heap. The perpendicular crevices on the right call for tiny rosettes of the English maidenhair (Asplen-ium Trichomanes), and wee plants of the walking leaf (Comptosorus). Heavy clumps of cliff brake (Pellaea) would spoil the light and airy effect which this particular subject calls for, likewise a crowded base or overloaded tray would ruin an otherwise artistic creation.
Almost the only really serviceable moss for indoor winter use, especially for open room culture, is known to botanists as A nomodon rostratus. It is said to be common, but in my experience it is intensely local. It grows on rocks and around the bases of trees in wet places; not in swamps, but often on a rocky bank which catches the drip from above. It is a rare thing to see this moss in midsummer, but in early fall, if rains are abundant, the most delicate lacework is wrought by unseen hands on rocks which a few weeks before were apparently destitute of all plant life. Medallions may be carefully peeled off, and are just the thing for carpeting the soil about the fern roots on the rocks, and if closely pinned rarely fail to grow. Again, we find thick, undulating sheets of this same moss which are just the thing for carpeting trays. The species may be called a plain moss, compact and neat in manner of growth, an ideal background for a single specimen of walking leaf or a solitary stalk of wintergreen with its cluster of crimson fruit.
Although Nature is careful of the type, she believes in variety and effects some happy combinations by a mixture of mosses. The anomodon dotted with tiny rosettes of a darker green is very beautiful.
All manner of lichens relieve the intense green of mosses by their limited allowance of colour. Sheets of very young walking leaf, such as one finds at the base of cliffs, may also be used for carpeting. They are sure to grow, and the fresh colour of the new fronds is cheering indeed in midwinter.
In the care of an indoor rockery extremes must be avoided. An excess of moisture is as disastrous as the lack of it. An anglenecked rubber plant-sprinkler is the only apparatus which will reach all points and can be regulated at will. The ferns in shallow crevices should be watered every day, preferably at night-never when the sun is upon them. The drip from the rock usually keeps the growth on the tray moist enough, but all-over showering is occasionally necessary.
Strong light is preferable to direct exposure to the sun's rays from any direction. One very successful rockery that I have in mind flourished for years in a north window.
Others equally fine have been grown on small tables placed at the left of the opening of a southern bay window where slanting rays strike the ferns only in the afternoon. Again I insist that revolving cliffs, not being in the natural order of events, the temptation to turn things around must be resisted.
As for temperature, no arbitrary rules can be given. Of course the cooler the situation the less the moisture required.