Clumber Gardener: Pay homage to the humble hardy fern

Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park
Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park

In days gone by the array of glasshouses on country estates like Clumber would often have included a fern house, where the latest introductions from the Victorian fern craze would have been displayed.

As a homage to this tradition, one of our mini projects this winter is to plant ferns in the palm house in Clumber’s walled kitchen garden.

This section of glass is not heated and contains three narrow beds, in which we’re going to grow a selection of low-growing hardy ferns, some evergreen and some with coloured fronds.

The shape and colour of their foliage will provide interest over several months.

Under glass they will receive a little protection from the cold, but all are hardy, so they could also be grown outdoors.

The native lady fern belongs to the genus Athyrium, which has produced some spectacular varieties with coloured fronds, including Ursula’s Red, Burgundy Lace and Ghost.

Equally flamboyant, by virtue of its congested fronds, is Frizelliae, with fronds resembling handmade lace.

The maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum, has a winning combination of delicate green fronds and striking black stems.

The native hart’s tongue fern, Asplenium scolopendrium has many low-growing forms, with shiny succulent-like foliage, some with attractive wavy edges to their fronds.

One of the best is the unattractively-named Kaye’s Lacerated.

The final group is the native polypore, which is reliably hardy and evergreen.

Polypodium vulgare ha given rise to lots of forms with crests, tassels and elaborate divisions on their fronds.

The Cambricum forms are all deeply lacerated and the fern connoisseur’s choice would be Jean Taylor with fronds resembling an elaborate congested sea weed.

During the summer, the foliage of the ferns will need regular misting and spraying.

And for summer interest, we propose growing plants like fuchsias and begonias alongside the ferns.

They too like humid conditions and don’t mind having their foliage sprayed.

All these companions to the ferns will tolerate shade and could be used to provide summer colour in a shady spot outdoors.

It is now November but there is still time to plant bulbs at the beginning of the month.

Containers for winter and spring interest can also be planted up. Use variegated evergreens, such as ivy and euonymus, bulbs and spring bedding plants such as polyanthus primroses, pansies and violas.

Protect vulnerable over-wintering plants before the first hard frosts, using sacking or straw to cover crowns of plants and bubble film to place around pots.

Lift and bring inside any tender perennial plants such as cannas, gladioli, chocolate cosmos and dahlias.

If you have outside water taps and exposed pipes supplying them, they should be protected to prevent frost damaging them.

Foam covers with plastic ties can be put over the tap, while exposed pipes should be insulated.

Prepare ground for new plantings on heavy soils by digging the soil and adding organic matter such as well rotted manure or leaf mould.

Leave ground rough dug to allow frosts to break down the clods.

Continue harvesting parsnips, swedes, leeks. broccoli and cabbage and prune back taller-growing shoots on shrub roses and lavateras.

However, leave final pruning until late winter or early spring.