Sunday, June 14, 2015
Everybody should have a fernery
Grotto, Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery
Where to begin? After a bit of a break from blogging, I came back energized and inspired from an exhausting yet exhilarating three days in Philadelphia for a regional meeting of the Garden Writers Association (GWA). As part of the meeting, GWA members toured the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, including Bloomfield Farm (a part of the arboretum not open to the public), with a visit to Chanticleer Garden the next day. But let's start at the beginning: everybody should have a fernery.
What's a fernery, you might ask? This isn't a trick question: it's a place where one grows ferns. There aren't many around these days, but when I asked horticulturist Louise Clarke what I should see on my first visit to the arboretum, she immediately recommended the Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery.
Entrance to the fernery
Victorians gardeners were crazy for ferns, and built enclosed gardens devoted entirely to ferns to shelter their more tender or tropical species. The fernery at Morris Arboretum was built by John Morris in 1899, when the property was his private estate, and is the oldest (in fact the only) surviving example of a Victorian fernery in North America. Some of the ferns in the collection are apparently the original specimens planted by Mr. Morris. The fernery is named in honor of Morris Arboretum board member and philanthropist Dorrance H. Hamilton, who helped fund a major restoration of the fernery in 1994 after a long period of decline.
Why ferns? I can't really say but there's something delightfully eccentric about a fernery. I've always loved ferns myself, so the idea appeals to me immensely. I especially liked the shaded, dripping grotto planted with maidenhair ferns (Adiantum sp.), which are among my favorite ferns. Now, how to fit something like that into my tiny property?
Asplenium nidus and other ferns
Nearby there is also a collection of hardy ferns in the Hardy Fern Garden & Stumpery. A stumpery is not where one grows stumps! Twisted, contorted, or otherwise architecturally interesting stumps are artistically arranged because apparently that's another one of the eccentric things Victorian gardeners did, planting them with ferns, mosses, and other woodsy plants. Morris Arboretum's stumpery is a more recent addition and I don't think any of the stumps are original, as I would expect them to decompose after more than a century.
Garden writer friend in the stumpery
Adiantum pedatum growing in the stumpery