Gardening / Cuttings: Ferns return

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The Independent Online
FERNS had a brilliant start this year, with all the wetness that even the soggiest osmunda could desire. Native ferns such as the common male fern Dryopteris filix-mas have produced fronds nearly 5ft long. The superb exhibit put up by Rickards at the Chelsea Flower Show showed that ferns are again coming into the limelight they enjoyed in the Victorian age.

The best fern books, to my mind, are still the old ones, illustrated with minutely detailed black-and-white engravings. The bookseller Anna Buxton has some in her latest catalogue: for a copy, contact her at Redcroft, 23 Murrayfield Road, Edinburgh EH12 6EP (031-337 1747). British Ferns and their Varieties by Charles Druery, published in 1910, costs pounds 25; A Popular History of the British Ferns and the Allied Plants by Thomas Moore (1851), pounds 22.

The latest work on the subject is The Cultivation of Ferns by Andrew MacHugh (Batsford, pounds 25) which suffers, like many recent gardening books, by having to take on the whole world for the sake of the publisher's marketing department. It covers temperate Europe, North America and the Tropics, which means that you do not get enough detail about the ferns you can grow in your own patch. The list of cultivated ferns is crammed at the back, and all the pictures bound together in the middle. The book's strength lies in its wide-ranging suggestions for ways of using ferns in the garden, planted under trees, in walls, by pools, in rock gardens and, of course, in mixed borders.

My current passion is the royal fern, Osmunda regalis, which I had thought we could not grow, for it likes damp, acid soil. In our garden, damp is no problem but acid is. Surprisingly, however, the fern flourishes all along the back of a shady border, in heavy clay soil.