If you think of ferns as just being bracken on a piece of common land, you are very mistaken. They are some of the oldest plants in the world, and their variety and delicately shaped and textured fronds are fascinating. And they are adaptable to many places and several different methods of display, from the confines of a totally enclosed glass case to being suspended in the air as a focal point of interest.

Glass fern cases: Specially-made cases have a sloping glass roof to enable the condensation produced through the respiration of the plants to run freely back into the compost. Narrow cases are best, as they allow a long row of small ferns to be set at the front with a backcloth of tall ones. These cases are adaptations of the old Wardian cases.

Bell jars set on a stand can be used for small ferns, and can make excellent centre-pieces for hall tables.

Fern balls: Fern balls can be suspended from ceilings, and are well suited to conservatories. Ferns such as Davallia canariensis and Humata tyermannii are ideal for training this way. Form wet sphagnum moss into a ball kept in shape with florist’s wire, and set the roots of the fern in the centre of it. As the long rhizomes (root part) grow to the outside of the ball of moss, they are tied around the ball until it is entirely covered by the fern fronds. It is essential to keep the ball of ferns and moss damp, and for a few hours after watering the moss it may be necessary to place a drip-tray underneath it. Fern balls are best placed in a conservatory with a stone floor. A better way of watering is to place the whole ball in a bucket of water for five minutes, then hang it up and allow the water to drain away.

Fern columns: This is a novel way of growing and displaying ferns under a glass dome. A tube of wire-mesh netting, about 10-12.5cm (4-5in) in diameter is formed by winding the netting around a piece of stiff card rolled to form a column. Wind a couple of layers of netting around it, winding the loose end-pieces around each other, and remove the

cardboard. The bottom of the netting can then be secured to a base, and a moist peat-based compost added in stages to the inside of the netting. At the same time, small ferns are planted through the netting, so that the roots are in the compost and the fronds on the outside. When planting is complete, syringe the column thoroughly and place it under a glass dome.

Suspended ferns: Many ferns look at their best when suspended from a firm support. This is usually most practicable in a conservatory where, perhaps, drips from the plants will not be too much of a problem. Nephrolepis exa/tata, known as the ladder fern, is well suited for suspension in a basket. The tapering fronds hang around the baskets.

The stag’s-horn fern, Platycerium bifurcation (P. alcicorne) is naturally an epiphyte and is ideal for growing attached to a piece of wood or cork with the roots growing in moist sphagnum moss. When established, the main fronds can be up to 75cm (2£ft) long, and the whole plant becomes very heavy. This is a fern that can also be fixed against a wall, where it will produce a natural ‘face’ side outwards.

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