The Fern Society of Victoria Inc.
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(Chris was the founding president of our Society and is a respected author of several books on ferns and their culture, Chris with his wife Lorraine owns and operates Austral Ferns, a successful wholesale fern nursery near Geelong.)
Most of the lovely Maidenhair ferns you buy in the nursery or supermarket are not successful in the ground. If you want to grow ferns in the ground, you would be well advised to pick some of our hardy, native varieties. There are quite a few of them, four in Victoria alone.
The most common, Adiantum aethiopicum or Common maidenhair, spreads quite rapidly from creeping rhizomes and will do well in the ground. Another is Adiantum formosum, Black stem or Giant maidenhair, which is much bigger than the common maidenhair and will get fronds as much as a metre long. (formosum means 'beautiful'.)
Another tough one, which comes up with reddish fronds, is Adiantum hispidulum. A non-native which is quite similar to it is Adianturn pubescens. It does quite well in the ground, too.
Many of the exotic Maidenhairs need to grow in a glasshousc, sunroom or possibly indoors. somewhere protected from the winter weather. They don't mind the cold but can't stand being both cold and wet for long.
This is cross between Asplenium
bulbiferum ( Hen and Chickens fern) and Aspleniurn surrogatum from Lord Howe Island. Fairly freely available from nurseries, it has inherited its parents' hardy natures but is a bit more vigorous and grows more rapidly.
It grows easily indoors, as an indoor potplant or in the fernery. It produces plantlets on the fronds like its parent, the Hen and Chickens fern.
There are a few ferns that will grow in full sun, and they are called xerophytic ferns. They usually grow in rocky situations in deserts or semi-deserts. In the dry season the fronds will dry out and curl up, looking quite dead, but with the first few drops of rain they rehydrate and open out again.
They are characteristically covered with tiny hairs, which act to prevent moisture loss. There are a couple of silver Elk Ferns which are similarly hairy, and these also grow in exposed, sunny spots. All the Cheilanthes genus are xerophytic and will be quite successful in dryish, rocky, sunny, exposed parts of your garden.
There are about thirty different Davallias, or hare's foot ferns, and though some of them are a bit tropical, the ones available in nurseries in Victoria (all except Davallia fijeensis and its cultivars) are quite suitable for a fernery here.
I would not advise growing them in the ground, but they can be grown on a mound which is very free draining, in hollow log, in a hanging basket or on a slab. They can even be grown in a depression or cleft on rock. They do need free drainage more than most ferns.
Another family of fern which grow very well and take some exposure are the Doodias or Rasp ferns, of which there are four in Victoria (more up the coast). They grow in dry situations and take quite a bit of sun.
The Leather fern, Rumohra adiantiformis, is another fern that docs well in the fernery. This is the fern that florists use widely because it lasts well when picked. It is an extremely tough fern. The usual form sold in nurseries originated in South Africa, where they grow on coastal rocks in full sun.
It is a good idea to get some clubmosses, Lycopodium or Selaginellas, for your fernery. They can be planted in the ground under your ferns, where they will spread and form an attractive groundcover of contrasting foliage which complements your ferns and helps prevent weeds.
There is a nice golden one called Selaginella kraussiana 'Aurea' which spreads quite rapidly, so much so that it can be a pest in a glasshouse but not in a fernery.
There are a couple of species that don't grow very tall, and so can be grown under a roof about 4 metres or so high. One is called Highland Lace,Cyathea tomentosissima and there are a couple of prostrate ones from New Zealand. If you want to grow Cyathea cooperi C. brownii. C medul1aris, C. robusta or many other Cyatheas, you need to have the top of the fernery open unless you are prepared to cut a hole in the roof and let it out! The other option is to grow them out in your garden under tall, evergreen trees where they can get plenty of water.
There is one tree fern which you can keep low by cutting off the top, discarding the base but replanting the top, and that is Diclsonia antarctica (Soft tree fern). The best time to do this is in the autumn. Remove most of the fronds at the time so that there is not too much too much stress on the trunk before the roots get re-established. Then make sure you keep the trunk moist at all times, at least through the following summer, until a next root system has established. The bare trunks are widely available in nurseries
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