Ferns, Mosses And Lichens For Dried Displays


The happy return to popularity of hardy ferns which can be grown in an otherwise difficult and almost uninhabitable shady garden corner where they can make such wonderful foils to hostas and other broad-leaved neighbours, means that collectors of material for drying should be in their element. Ferns of all kinds, shapes and sizes can form a most attractive feature in dried arrangements and should be grown as extensively as space will permit; they are valuable either fresh or preserved. Here again, however, a conflict of interests may arise between the gardener on the one hand, in defence of his precious collection of ferns which act as all-important, labour-saving “ground-cover” in his battle against weeds, and the floral arranger on the other hand, in quest of the beautiful green fronds which must be picked while the sap is still on the rise – and therefore well before they start to arch and spread in the heavy tangled mass which is perfect for ground protection!

Alternatively, of course, anyone picking ferns for flower arrangements, whether fresh or dried, will find much to delight him in the tender green-house and conservatory species which now, alas, are far less available than they were, being largely confined, when grown for decoration, to botanical gardens where the necessary tropical atmosphere can be provided.

The flower arranger, however, cannot afford to relax his pursuit of such a necessary commodity and will, if wise, exert all his efforts to obtain an ample supply. Fortunately there are now several authorities on the culture of cultivated ferns to whom he can refer.

In wild life, the great fern families, such as Filices, are well worth exploring. It is a very large order, abundantly diffused over the surface of the globe, especially in moist climates (although some species are found growing in the chinks of rocks, in extremely hot climates). Great Britain, luckily, has a natural abundance of their riches, including such gems as Adiantum,

Asplenium (Splecnwort), the Polypodium genus (Polypody), Polystichum Braunii (Shield-Fern), Cystopteris (Bladder-Fern), Ophioglossum (Adder’s-Tongue), Botrychium (Moonwort), Phyllitis Scolopendrium (Hart’s-Tongue), and many more. The collector of these enchanting fronds requires a sharp penknife and a fine polythene bag in which to carry his harvest home, flat, before giving them a final pressing between sheets of blotting paper. With such a stock in store, the ultimate dried arrangement should be truly entrancing. This is especially true in the case of the tinier fronds – no more than a few inches high; they could be set in a carpet of club-mosses or selaginella or curly grey lichens, with a selection of wild grasses of the bent, timothy or rye types, and maybe some specially chosen seed-heads of winter aconites, grape-hyacinths, fritillaries or columbines – or why not a clump of blue gentians preserved in full bloom?

For illustrated descriptions of these wild ferns, there can be no better reference than Bentham’s Illustrated Handbook of British Flora, Volume II.


Like ferns, happily now reappearing in many gardens, mosses really require more attention than the cursory mention meted out to them here. They have been the cinderellas of the growing world for long enough, and the dried flower worker would do well to concentrate on making a collection of these fascinating plants, so invaluable for the base of arrangements.

For mosses such as quillworts, pillworts, club-mosses, selaginellas and others, reference should be made to Bentham’s Illustrated Handbook of British Flora, Volume II.


Finally, there are the colourful lichens which clothe the roof-tops of old cottages and farm buildings and drape themselves in festoons along the branches of trees if the atmosphere is moist enough – as on the west coast of Scotland. Some of the types which need less moisture are found growing on rocks and boulders. All are very slow-growing, exceedingly varied in form, and extremely sensitive to atmospheric pollution – so they are not often found in industrial surroundings. Harvesting lichens is probably best done with a knife, unless it is possible to sever intact portions of the branches upon which they are growing. These lichened branches – often of larch – can make the most enchanting arrangements. Lichens can be stored successfully, and when dry will last for years.

The study of lichen nomenclature would be a monumental task, and the collector could well be forgiven for avoiding it unless he wishes to specialise in lichen work. He should never, however, miss an opportunity of adding such varied and entrancing material to his store.

Four arrangements are grouped together below.

Ferns, Mosses And Lichens For Dried Displays

Ferns, Mosses And Lichens For Dried Displays 2

At the top left, is a traditional dried arrangement of mixed seed-heads and leaves, in shades of high summer green and autumnal browns and golds. Two shiny amber-gold clematis heads, dipped in varnish and then dried on newspaper, form a centrepiece. The ferns were picked from an old stone wall by the roadside and then pressed in blotting paper under a sofa cushion. Amongst the outlining material are sprays of nipplewort in the centre of the left-hand side, with its delicate green seed-heads on fine stalks, and timothy grass on the right-hand side.

Top right is an oblong arrangement, assembled in Plasticine on a flat cakestand, and set off by a frame of massed dark green leaves. In the foreground are creamy-yellow chincherinchees with their delicate, crowding, butterfly petals. In a spaced circle round these, pointing up the rich dark leaves, are dried yellow helichrysums. The beautiful blue poppy seed-heads, each with its own small golden-brown “crown”, were dried flat in boxes. In the background are spires of reddish-green sorrel, and delicate pressed conifer sprays make a light outer frame beyond the dark crowding leaves.

At the bottom left, is a light, feathery, dried arrangement, in a glass. The golden-yellow chincherinchee “sun” and the circling starry dried helichrysums are backed by roadside ferns, leaves and conifer sprays, and outlined with the delicate lacework of nipplewort and with garden sage. Low on the left is pencil-fine dried Bent grass.

At the bottom right, is set in a white stemmed vase. The frontal feature is again a chincherinchee, surrounded and shown up by a spreading, star-shaped background of shiny, dark brown leaves of Prunus Iusitanica (Portugal Laurel), glossy, formal and impressive. The deep dark colour of these pressed leaves is gently echoed by the spikes of reddish-brown sorrel which, with ferns, fine grasses, garden sage and the invaluable delicate seed-heads of nipplewort, spray out to form the rays of a lighter, more delicate background.

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