One of our favorite ferns is the Lady fern hybrid, Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’. Created in Pittsboro, NC by plantsman Thurman Maness, this patented gem was offered for years through wholesale channels, but sales were not strong enough, so the sole producer discontinued it. So often, great patented plants suddenly become unavailable if sales don’t warrant.
In Europe, any grower can petition the PVR office to request permission to propagate such protected plants, but no such program exists in the US. Fortunately, Thurman has generously granted us permission to propagate his amazing introduction and make it available. That said, division is a very slow way to make ferns available, but since this hybrid between Athyrium filix-femina and Athyrium nipponicum is sterile, it’s our only option.
If you’re a nursery, and you’d like to offer ferns, the plants at your disposal are somewhat limited. A large majority of ferns sold in America are still sadly dug from the wild. When you see a catalog listing primarily these ferns together…usually an very inexpensive prices, you can be pretty much assured they were dug from the wild: Osmunda regalis (royal fern), Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon Fern), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern), Matteuccia Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern), Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair fern), Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern), and Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern). These ferns are often sold bareroot, to save the nursery the expense of having to pot the collected plants, many of which are so large, they won’t fit in small containers.
The other majority of ferns in the market are produced by tissue culture, either by a couple of labs in Florida, one in Texas, and one in Holland. Without the amazing work of these labs, the fern selections available to homeowners would be limited to the wild collections. Even with their amazing work, these labs must focus on well-known ferns that sell in very large numbers.
While we make use of the lab offerings, we also made a commitment over 30 years ago to grow many of our own ferns from spores. Outside of a few small fern specialists, there are few nurseries who grow their own ferns from spores, since this is the most costly and time consuming option. The reason we do this is so that we can offer fern species and selected forms that are otherwise unavailable.
Below is a quick summary of how the process works. Fern spores (fern equivalents of seed) are collected through the summer, and are dried in paper envelopes until they separate from the foliage. They are then sown in pots with potting soil that is sterilized here, and then sealed in ziploc bags. The spore takes from 1 month to 6 months to germinate. Once the spores germinate, they are ready to have sex…a process that is reversed from more modern evolved flowering plants.
To assist the ferns have sex, we gently add water to the newly germinated sporelings, since ferns (other than desert ferns) only have sex while they are swimming. The water is swirled around to mimic the feel of a whirlpool, then the bags are then resealed, and put in the dark where they are subjected to a near constant montage of Barry White music.
Within a few weeks, tiny fern fronds begin to emerge. At this point, the ziploc bags are opened to allow the humidity to equalize with the ambient air. After another couple of weeks the pots are removed from the ziploc bags. If the spore were viable and cleaned well without contamination, and if germination was good, there will be up to several hundred plants per pot.
After a few weeks, the sporelings are transplanted into a cell pack flat. Here they grow out for another few months until they are ready to be planted into our 1 qt. pots, in which they will be sold. In all, it’s about an 18 month process, and a good bit of labor. We’re really quite passionate about our fern collection at JLBG, which the visiting British Fern Society declared one of the largest/most diverse in the world. We hope you find the results worthwhile.
I recently snapped this image of the amazing Athyrium ‘Victoriae’ while touring gardens in Cincinnati, where it grows even better than it does here in steamy NC. The three dimensional fronds are amazing…like no other plant we’ve grown…seriously cool!
It’s been quite a spring so far…very cool for much longer than usual…at least until early April. Plant emergence was far behind recent springs when, out of nowhere, temperatures rose in the 80s for ten days and the garden sprung to life. The subsequent late April temperature cool down, however, kept plant development about 1-2 weeks behind recent springs. Because of the sudden warm-up we experienced in early April, many smaller perennials will wilt despite the soil still being moist. As a gardener, this drives me a bit mad, but you have to realize the plants will adjust their stomatal openings (breathing holes) and be fine once they acclimate to the new temperature regimen, which usually only takes a couple of days.
One of the garden tasks that need attention in spring is assessing the amount of shade in your woodland garden. Spring is a great time to take stock of your woodland perennials, who will tell you if they are unhappy with the amount of light they are receiving. They won’t tell you via email or through their union reps, so you have to tune in and observe. If your plants seem to be going backwards in vigor or size…they used to flower but they no longer do so, you need to stop and figure out why. In almost all cases, spring ephemerals suffer a gradual decline in the woodland garden. Hostas that get smaller, trilliums that no longer flower and other woodland perennials that simply aren’t as vigorous as they once were are a sign of trouble. There are a number of potential culprits, from voles to a lack of summer moisture, but the cause that I see more than any other is an increase in the amount of shade.
Most shade plants need some light. In the case of spring ephemerals (plants that go through their entire life cycle in late winter/early spring), they need light during the short window of time before the trees develop their leaves. If you try growing spring ephemerals under evergreens, the results are usually not good. If all you have are evergreen trees and shrubs as an overstory, you can still help the situation by thinning out or removing selected limbs until you see rays of light reaching the plants below. Even plantings under deciduous trees can decline if the overstory isn’t selectively thinned on at least an annual basis. Now is a great time to monitor the perennials in your shade garden and determine which limbs need to be either removed or thinned, so get the hand pruners and pole saw ready. If you do this early enough in the year, plants can recover in only one season.
Athyrium (Lady Fern, Japanese Painted Fern) and Azalea ‘Redwing’
As most of you know, we are rapidly approaching our Spring Open House, May 3-5 and May 10-12. This a very special open house for us as it marks our 25th year in existence. Plant Delights and the gardens here at Juniper Level have come a long way since 1988, and we hope you will join us to celebrate this very special occasion. All of this would never have been possible without your tremendous support and for that, we can’t thank you enough. The dates for this and future open nursery and garden dates can be found at here.
The gardens here at Juniper Level look amazing thanks to garden curator, Todd Wiegardt, and his amazing staff and volunteers. I’m writing this from the garden patio where the evening aromas are in stronger than a Willie Nelson tour bus…from phlox to michellias (banana shrubs), to chionanthus and amorphophallus…there’s an aroma for everyone. Although the garden is perfumed all day, many of the best fragrances occur in late afternoon, so schedule your visit accordingly. If you’re attending open house for the first time, plan to be a bit overwhelmed. With over 20,000 different plants in the garden, it’s impossible to even begin to see everything in one trip. Heck, even I find new plants every day that I’ve forgotten. Our horticulture staff is stationed throughout the garden and nursery to answer any of your gardening questions, so don’t hesitate to ask anything that comes to mind as you stroll through the acres of gardens.
We also still have some room in our close-up photography class which takes place during the first Saturday of our open house. We are fortunate to have Josh Taylor, of Maryland, who also teaches photography at the Smithsonian, here to lead the class. You can sign up online here.
Strangely, we also have room remaining in our June propagation class for the first time in over 20 years. Again, don’t hesitate if you’d like one of the last spots.
Spring has been too busy for much traveling, but a recent 4-talk speaking trip through Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina did provide a bit of time for some spring botanizing. The highlight of the trip was the chance to see the recently discovered and soon-to-be named Trillium tennesseense….see the image we posted on the Trillium facebook page. Lots of other gems along the way, too numerous to mention here.
In the “in case you missed it file” this month, scientists have discovered that some plant nectar comes laced with caffeine, which enhances the Pavlovian response of garden pollinators. A bevy of bees in your garden may be, in fact, more like a line of latte-lovers standing in line at Starbucks than we ever realized. This adds to the stack of mounting evidence of how plants manipulate animals for mutual benefit. Although this relationship has been know for years using nectar sugars, this is a first for plants resorting to psychoactive drugs to lure suitors. These results come from honeybee expert, Geraldine Wright, of England’s Newcastle University, as an offshoot of her research to study human abused drugs.
Under the arching oak in the woodland garden
Nursery News and Happenin’s
A recent shocker in the horticulture world was the fatal heart attack of Glasshouse Works co-founder, Tom Winn, age 67, on March 8. Tom is survived by his long-time partner, Ken Frieling. In 1985, Tom and Ken created one of the world’s finest sources of rare plants…primarily tropicals. Around 1990, when we were getting Plant Delights started, Glasshouse Works was one of my favorite places to visit, both to acquire plants, and also to learn about the mail order nursery business. Their display gardens were small, but packed with an incredible array of rare plants which served as an inspiration for our own gardens at Plant Delights. Tom was the front man for the nursery while Ken worked behind the scenes, so I know his life will be completely turned upside down. Our thoughts are with Ken and he continues to manage the nursery and deal with his loss. You can share a memory, a note of condolence or sign the online register book.
I also just heard from Jacque Wrinkle, that her husband, Guy Wrinkle, passed away April 20. Almost all collectors of cycads, caudiciforms (plants with swollen bases), or unusual bulbs have heard of or dealt with Guy and his mail order nursery, Guy Wrinkle’s Rare Exotics in Vista, California. I purchased my Trachycarpus takil from Guy in the mid-1990s and recently found it to be one of the few true Trachycarpus takil on the entire East Coast. We would later trade variegated agaves even before we finally met in person at the fall 2009 Agave summit in California. Guy retired from his career a biology professor in fall 2007 to devote more time to his love of plants.Unfortunately, he was diagnosed in 2009 with brain cancer, a condition he battled successfully until a new, more aggressive cancer recently proved too much to overcome. You can find one of Guy’s many articles online at Rare Exotics. Our thoughts are with his wife Jacque during this difficult time.
We recently also mourned the death of NC Botanical Garden founding director (1961-1986), Dr. Ritchie Bell, at the ripe age of 91. I was fortunate to have known Ritchie since the mid-1970s when he was a lone voice for the growing and propagating of native plants. I was greatly influenced by Ritchie’s philosophy of “Conservation through Propagation” which, unfortunately has now been largely abandoned by the garden he founded. Ritchie was also known as the author of several fabulous books; “Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas” (1968, co-authored with Albert Radford and Harry Ahles), “Wildflowers of North Carolina” (1968, co-authored with William Justice), “Florida Wild Flowers and Roadside Plants” (1980, co-authored with Bryan Taylor), “Fall Color and Woodland Harvests of the Eastern Forests” (1990, co-authored with his wife Anne Lindsey Bell) and “Fall Color Finder” (1991, co-authored with Anne Lindsey Bell). Ritchie was honored with a number of awards including the Silver Seal Award from the National Council of Garden Clubs and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of North Carolina. Job well done, my friend!
I inexplicably missed the passing of our fern friend, Barbara Joe Hoshizaki, who passed away last June 24 at the age of 83. Barbara retired from the fern world a few years ago, due to aging and cognitive issues.Barbara Joe spent 28 years teaching biology at California City College when she wasn’t working in her wonderful home garden. She was a tireless promoter of ferns and served as President of the American Fern Society, President of the Southern California Horticultural Institute, and was a member of a number of other organizations. Barbara is best known for her book, “The Fern Grower’s Manual” (1975), and an expanded 2 edition with Robbin Moran (2001). Barbara was extremely helpful in identifying many of our ferns from our overseas expeditions, and we owe her a huge dept of gratitude. Barbara is survived by her husband, Takashi; two children, Carol (George Brooks) and Jon (Madeleine Takii), and other family members. The family requests that donations be made to the Organization for Tropical Studies, Box 90630, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708‑0630, “OTS in Memory of Barbara Hoshizaki.”
My final farewell today is to a group…the International Bulb Society. The 80-year-old International Bulb Society, which has long been an incredible resource to bulb lovers around the world, has decided to fold at the end of 2013. The society’s problems began over a decade earlier, when a series of ego-driven personality conflicts caused many of the members to drop out and join the recently-formed Pacific Bulb Society. Despite the fact that most new members didn’t live anywhere near the Pacific Ocean, the new group offered a more user-friendly format with far less drama while making sharing rare plants at low cost a key principle…the antithesis of IBS. I am truly sad to see IBS go as it brought together so many wonderful experts from around the world, and if you could afford the plant prices, it was a place to acquire the rarest of the rare bulbs. Who knows…if you believe in the afterlife, perhaps there will one day be a reincarnation of this wonderful group.
Until next month, we’ll keep posting plant photos from the garden and sharing all sorts of cool things from the world of horticulture on our Facebook Page.