An Infinite Variety of Ferns

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Mosses and ferns populated the Earth long before any flower bloomed or fish swam through the vast oceans of our earliest years.  Soothing green mosses still fascinate and entertain many of us obsessive gardeners.

I lift mine from spots where they grow in our garden, and also do my bit to help them spread a bit more each year.  Non-vascular, they have no roots, true stems or true leaves.  Moisture simply seeps from cell to cell as they welcome the rain.

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Ferns rose up from the moist and mossy surface of the Earth as the first plants to develop true roots, stems and leaves.  Tiny tubes that carry water from root to leaf allowed these novel plants to reach ever higher to catch the sunlight.

From that humble beginning, eons ago, ferns have carried on their simple lives and developed into countless different shapes, forms and sizes.

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These ancient plants still reproduce themselves with spores, as the mosses do.  Never will you find a flower or seed from a fern.

Their spores must fall and grow on the moist Earth before first forming a gametophyte, which most of us never even notice.  Eventually that simple structure will grow into a new fern.  Their ways of reproducing are mysterious and hidden from the casual observer.

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The small dots that grow on the back of some mature fern leaves hold the spores.  They will be released as a fine powder when the spores are ripe.  Blown on the wind, some eventually some will settle where they can grow. This frond is the evergreen hardy fern Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ .

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Although ferns often look delicate and fragile, they are tougher than you might expect.  So long as their basic needs are met, they thrive.  They don’t need as much light as flowering plants, and so often grow under the canopy of trees, in dense and shady places.

Like mosses, they enjoy humidity and regular rain.  Some ferns begin to get a little brown ‘burned’ edge on their leaves if the air grows too dry.

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The Victorians collected interesting ferns from around the world.  They traveled far and wide to discover new species of ferns, often in the tropics.  They developed the glass house, fern cabinet, and terrarium as ways to keep their ferns warm and humid on board ship and through cold British winters.

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Gardeners today have uncounted choices of interesting ferns to grow.  We have a wide array of species ferns, plus many, many cultivars.  Hardy ferns grow on every continent.

Our garden features many varieties of hardy evergreen and deciduous ferns.  Some, like our Christmas ferns and favorite Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ remain green through the winter.  Others, like our many Japanese painted ferns, drop their leaves as days grow shorter in autumn, and remain dormant until early spring.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ remains green and beautiful year round.  Its new fronds emerge a beautiful shade of bronze.

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We also enjoy many ferns that aren’t hardy in our climate.  These must come indoors before frost, but will return to the garden in late April.

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I have been fascinated by ferns for many, many years now.  When I see a new one we don’t yet grow, I want it.

I won’t even try to explain; I’m too busy watering and potting up fern babies to grow on into good sized plants by late spring.

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When most of us think of fern fronds, we think of long fronds clothed on both sides of their stipe with small, fringed leaves known as pinna.  Sometimes these are very finely divided into tinier and tinier parts.  We watch for their unfurling fiddleheads in spring, and see them in our imagination waving in the breeze as they carpet a forest glade.

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But ferns take other forms, too.  While some are lacy, others grow like broad tongues of green, or even like the long branched horns of a deer.  Usually ferns send up leaves from a stem most often found at, or just below, the ground.

But some even grow tall, like trees, where each year new fronds grow from the uppermost crown, leaving a scaly brown ‘stem’ trunk beneath.

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The long hairy stem of a ‘footed fern’ creeps along the ground in nature.  On this one, tongue-like leaves appear at intervals along its length.

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The different forms, colors, and growth habits of these beautiful plants intrigue me.  I love to watch them grow, and I enjoy trying to grow them in different ways.

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It isn’t always easy to find a good source for ferns.  Some mail-order nurseries will charge huge amounts of money for a fairly simple fern.  Go to your local big-box store, and you may find only a couple of common varieties.

I always drool over the Plant Delights catalog, because they carry such a wide selection of different ferns, and offer ferns you won’t find anywhere else.  They travel the world to collect new species and varieties of beautiful ferns, and also carry new cultivars from breeders.

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Maidenhair fern growing in our fern garden last May.

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Most of their ferns are hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  If we can keep them hydrated through the hottest part of summer, they will perform for many years to come.

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Athyrium niponicum pictum ‘Apple Court’

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Yet, winter is a special time when I enjoy small potted ferns indoors.  And I’ve found an excellent source for ferns at The Great Big Greenhouse in the Richmond area.  They carry the widest selection of both hardy and tender ferns that I’ve found anywhere in our region.

It will be a few weeks yet before their spring shipment of hardy ferns arrives, but no matter.  Right now, they have a gargantuan selection of tropical ferns to tempt the most winter weary gardener.  They come in all sizes from tiny to huge, too.  February is a very special month at this favorite gardening haunt, because they have several events planned for gardeners devoted to growing plants indoors.

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I always explore their collection of tropical plants for terrariums and fairy gardens, which come in 1″ pots.  I have found so many wonderful ferns, like the fern growing on my windowsill in the photo above.  I bought this in a 1″ pot in the spring of 2016 and grew it outdoors on the porch that summer.  It came indoors that fall, and has grown in our windowsill ever since.

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Those tiny ferns in 1″ pots very quickly grow up into full size beauties that will fill a pot or basket.

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After spending the remaining winter months inside, I quickly move them out into larger containers as the weather allows.  This is an easy and economical way to have ferns ready for summer hanging baskets and pots.

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Ferns offer endless variations on a simple theme.  Elegant and easy to grow, we find something new and beautiful to do with ferns in each season of the year.

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Fiddlehead of Brilliance autumn fern in April

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Variations on a Theme
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Color Your World: Perseverance

The Star Magnolia wants to break into bloom in the depths of our Virginia winter. February 11 Grey

The Star Magnolia wants to break into bloom in the depths of our Virginia winter. February 11 Grey

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“Begin doing what you want to do now.

We are not living in eternity.

We have only this moment,

sparkling like a star in our hand-

-and melting like a snowflake…”

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Francis Bacon

We woke this morning to the unexpected beauty of our garden covered in snow.  An inch fell sometime between midnight and morning.  The clouds were long gone by the time I wandered to the window to look out on this new day; a day bathed in warm golden sunshine, reflecting off that brilliant and sparkling snow.

We are in those depths of a Virginia winter when one must expect the unexpected.  We’ve more snow on the way, and we are preparing for night time temperatures to grow ridiculously cold by Saturday night.  These are the days and nights a gardener dreads, when those tiny bits of life one tries to nurture through till spring finally might succumb to winter’s frigid touch.

Knowing this, we moved the olive trees into the garage at sunset yesterday.  Now nearly 4 feet tall, they have made it through three winters in their very portable pots.  Hardy to Zone 8, I have left them out longer this winter than ever before.  But now they are situated in the garage to survive these next few frosty nights.

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Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' shrugs off the cold without a single leaf withering. They may turn a bit rosy in the cold, but always recover. February 13 'Yellow Green' and February 7 'Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown.'

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ shrugs off the cold without a single leaf withering. They may turn a bit rosy in the cold, but always recover. February 13 ‘Green Yellow’ and February 7 ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown.’

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“You never know what’s around the corner.

It could be everything.

Or it could be nothing.

You keep putting one foot in front of the other,

and then one day you look back

and you’ve climbed a mountain.”

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Tom Hiddleston

I’m always a bit restless in February.  I want to keep on gardening, but most of the garden has gone dormant.  I wander around looking for signs of change and growth.  Perhaps I’m looking for reassurance that things are still alive.

While it is fine to have a rest from weeding and watering, I miss the dynamic change of watching plants grow and develop into the fullness of their beauty.

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Selaginella with a new Amaryllis

Selaginella and Strawberry Begonia with a new Amaryllis bulb. February 10 ‘Granny Smith Apple Green.’

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This time of year challenges our spirit of perseverance.  

We plan, we order, we clean, we prune, and we wait.   I fiddle endlessly with those plants wintering indoors, too; taking cuttings, watering, and admiring those in bloom.

I planted up the last of our autumn Amaryllis bulbs today with some beautiful Selaginella adopted from The Great Big Greenhouse last week.   Understanding how February affects us all, they compassionately have a full month of special events to promote tropical houseplants.  I made it for the last day of their sale on ferns, but  will miss the Orchid presentation next Saturday….

The little Strawberry Begonia has been growing outside in a pot since last summer.  Today I finally rescued it,  and brought it inside for this arrangement.  Maybe it will respond to the warmth by sending out runners and ‘baby’ plants some week soon.

There are rarely immediate results from those tasks we tackle in winter.  We have to bide out time and wait for our efforts to bear fruit sometime further along in the season.   We wait and watch for those first tiny signs of spring’s awakening, ready to celebrate each unfolding.

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The first tiny green tips of awakening bulbs break ground in this pot by the back door. February 8, 'Gold.'

The first tiny green tips of awakening bulbs break ground in this pot by the back door. February 8, ‘Gold.’

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I am happy, this February, to participate in Jennifer Nichole Wells’s new “Color My World: One Hundred Days of Crayola” photo challenge.  Jenny is working from the Crayola Crayon chart of colors, and offers a new color challenge each day for 120 days, beginning January 1.   I’ll aim for one post each week, sharing photos of as many of that week’s colors as I’m able.

This week’s colors include:  Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown, Gold, Goldenrod, Granny Smith Green, Grey, Green, and Green Yellow.  These colors were easy to find in the garden today, even in a February garden.  There are abundant signs of life in our Forest Garden, and we appreciate finding each and every one.

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Goldenrod yellow shines in the face of this tiny Viola. February 9, "Goldenrod."

Autumn’s ‘Goldenrod’ yellow shines in the face of this tiny Viola. February 9, “Goldenrod.”

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“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one.

Of course, we are all familiar with the first book

he wrote, namely Scripture.

But he has written a second book

called creation.”

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Francis Bacon 

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Our Forsythia continues slowly breaking bud in the garden. We didn't enjoy Forsythia until mid-March in 2015. Here it blooms by the drive.

Our Forsythia continues slowly breaking bud in the garden. We didn’t enjoy Forsythia until mid-March in 2015. Here it blooms by the drive.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Our pond at sunset last Saturday. February 12, 'Green"

Our pond at sunset last Saturday. February 12, ‘Green”

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“Even in the mud and scum of things,

something always, always sings.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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February 10, 2016 winter growth 030

Heart Stone

February 18, 2015 fern garden 004

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Have you ever found a heart stone?  A heart stone is a little stone worn away into the shape of a heart.  We always watch for them.

Sometimes we find them on beaches, worn into shape in the pounding surf.  These are always special.

Others we find in rock and crystal shops, at mineral shows, or from online mineral vendors.

Colleen, at Silver Threading, and I have been chatting about heart stones since I read her installment entitled, “ The Swamp Fairy-Deciphering the Code” in her online short story about The Swamp Fairy.  This is a wonderfully magical story, and I invite you to read it from the beginning, “The First Dream of the Swamp Fairy.”

A heart stone features in her story, with a wonderful photograph of the stone.

When Colleen learned that heart stones are special to us, she asked to see some in our collection.  That was enough to inspire me to create a little moss garden for this heart stone, carved from labrodorite.  The fern has actually been growing in this container for a few months now.  It came inside in early autumn to live through the winter in our living room garden.  Today I dressed it up with moss left from yesterday’s fairy garden project, a few bits of lichens I’ve been saving, and of course, a heart stone.

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February 18, 2015 fern garden 003

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You might have noticed that I often use bits of mineral and gemstone in my potted gardens and terrariums.  Gemstones all have a very particular molecular and crystalline structure which allows them to transmit and amplify energy; particularly electrical energy.  That is why the watch you’re wearing is probably a quartz watch.  The piezoelectric properties of all quartz based minerals are particularly useful for receiving, amplifying, storing, transmitting, and transforming energy.  That is why our computers use quartz, and why the Egyptians capped their pyramids and built their obelisks from quartz rich granite.

All plants and animals produce bioelectricity.  We respond to the energy produced by the sun and transmitted by the Earth.  Pairing plants with minerals enhances both.

And keeping a heart stone nestled in this bed of moss, beneath this young fern, in the heart of our home, feels like a good thing to do.  We enjoy its beauty, and it radiates happiness and well-being.

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February 18, 2015 stone 002~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Heart stones found on the beach in the Aran Islands.

Micro Gardening

February 7, 2015 micro 016

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Do you feel better surrounded by green growing things?

These very gentle and generous beings have a certain presence.  It is one reason why we feel relaxed and peaceful in our home surrounded by a forest.

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February 7, 2015 micro 011

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Which makes January and February such a challenge.  Most of our garden still slumbers through its winter dormancy.

Yes, the daffodils have begun to send up a few leaves here and there to test the air…. but we’re still just hanging on here.  Many reading this may simply wish to see the ground again, as their garden slumbers under its thick covering of snow and ice.

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February 7, 2015 micro 008

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Which might explain why the tiniest little plants bring such joy today.  Even a narrow windowsill can hold a very satisfying micro garden in February.

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February 7, 2015 micro 025

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It is the energy of growth which attracts us.  And watching their tiny unfoldings offers us a meditation on the nature of our own lives.

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February 7, 2015 micro 020

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Some find peace in the simplicity and sparseness of winter.  I find joy in watching life spin itself in new growth from the simple elements of water, air, and light.

There are lessons to be learned from this intimate observation of the infinite.

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February 7, 2015 micro 014

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All you need is a tiny container.  Depending on what you choose to grow, a little sand, a little water, or perhaps a little soil will sustain the tiny life you cradle there.

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February 6, 2015 Amaryllis 026

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This is the season when every bit of plant matter is ‘juiced,’ just waiting for the proper conditions to burst into another season of growth. 

Whether you scrape up a bit of moss, save a carrot top, plant a bean or garlic clove, suspend a sweet potato in water or moist sand, or even stand a cutting in a jar of water; the wonders of life will unfold right in front of your eyes.

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January 23, 2015 birds 002

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You don’t need acres of land to share in the mystery.  You don’t need an investment of cash.

Just see the possibility.   Offer warmth and water.

And prepare to be amazed.

 

Woodland Gnome 2015

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January 23, 2015 expressive 007

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Inspired by the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Scale

Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day

January 21, 2015 cutting board 013

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What fun to stumble upon something new!  Today I found a link to Christina’s gardening blog, where she hosts this wonderful event on the 22 of each month.

Christina posts, “Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day, where we celebrate all kinds of foliage, green, evergreen, silver, gold or red.”

And what a wonderful hour I’ve just spent following the links from her blog to other fascinating gardening blogs with posts about interesting leaves!

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January 21, 2015 cutting board 016

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My offering for this January 22 is the latest in my series of little moss gardens and terrariums.  My gardening is mostly inside at the moment, and these little moss gardens bring such pleasure.

A friend and I shopped the Re-Store, which supports Habitat For Humanity, earlier this week; and I came home with lots of interesting clear glass containers for terrariums.  This was the best one, and I made it up as a gift for her husband’s recent re-retirement.

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January 21, 2015 cutting board 014

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This little garden’s most interesting foliage is the tiny strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera.  This is another new baby off of some larger plants I’m overwintering inside.

In addition to the soft green mosses from our garden, there is a division of a special lacy fern and a division of peacock spikemoss, Selaginella uncinata.

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January 23, 2015 birds 003~

A bit of shelf fungus pulled from a branch in our forest completes this little garden.

All of these plants may be transplanted outside in a few months when the weather settles.  Whether moved to a pot or planted into a bed, this little grouping will grow on in a shady spot.  All little divisions now, they will each grow quite a bit larger and continue to spread.

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January 23, 2015 birds 002

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I am so happy to be surrounded with talented friends who love gardening and are happy to share the joy of it with me.  And now that I’ve found Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day, there is another opportunity to photograph and share the many beautiful foliage plants we grow and enjoy throughout the year.

 

Woodland Gnome 2015

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January 21, 2015 cutting board 016

Aqua-Terrarium

January 16, 2015 terrarium 001

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Is it possible to grow “underwater” plants in a terrarium?  I’ve been playing with this idea for some time now.

I’m not thinking of an “aquarium,” with fish or snails or frogs.  I’m wondering how the principals of making a “little world in a bottle” can be transferred to making a watery environment.

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January 16, 2015 terrarium 004~

Books on terrariums seem to group their projects into three or four main categories.  There are the ‘desert’ terrariums constructed from sand, rock, and succulent plants.  These require very little water and need bright light.

There are the “jungle’ terrariums made for rooted plants which prefer high humidity.  These have soil, moss, ferns, tropical plants, and often bits of lichens, wood, and stones.

There are those terrariums which hold air plants balanced on stone, wood, or sand; and the so called “fantasy” terrariums which may have only reindeer moss and decorative items.

The ‘water-world’ I was imagining wasn’t anywhere to be found in books on miniature gardens or terrariums.

 

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And so I’m experimenting with one. 

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January 16, 2015 signs 001

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It made sense to look for water-loving plants at a nearby Petco.  There is a decent selection, even in January.  These tiny plants come packed in water absorbing gel in little clear plastic sleeves.  I chose two ferns, Microsorium pteropus, ‘Windelov,’ commonly known as ‘Crested Java Fern’ and Trichomanes javanicum, or Aqua Fern.

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January 16, 2015 signs 003

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I’ve trained myself to take a moment to search for information about new acquisitions, and it’s a good thing that I did a little research on both of these plants before planting them.  Although aqua fern is commonly sold for use in aquariums, it is a terrestrial fern in nature.  There is a lot of criticism in the articles I read of pet shops which sell this fern for aquarium use.

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January 16, 2015 signs 019

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It can tolerate water up to a point, but prefers to grow in the air.  Grown entirely underwater, it dies within a year or so.

The crested Java fern is not so picky.  It can grow on land, partially submerged, or completely underwater.

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January 16, 2015 signs 009

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But it should never be “planted” with its roots under soil.  It grows from creeping rhizomes and must be anchored to a rock or piece of driftwood, and allowed to grow above the soil line of its environment.

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January 16, 2015 signs 017

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All of this was useful information in thinking about how to plant my “aqua-terrarium.”

I realized that although the crested Java fern needs no soil, the aqua fern would benefit from having its roots anchored in soil and its leaves at least partially exposed to the air.

A base layer of glass shards and polished stones forms the base layer of this terrarium.

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January 16, 2015 signs 005

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I topped this with a fairly thick layer of reindeer moss to hold the soil from shifting down among these stones.

The trick of this construction is to encase the soil as much as possible, to keep it from muddying the water.  There is some leakage of soil, but I expect it to settle out over time.

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January 16, 2015 signs 014

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I wrapped a large, attractive stone with gold plated jewelry wire, constructing a little spiral to anchor the roots of the crested Java fern.  Rhizomes should eventually grow over the rock, and potentially spread across the gravel.

I covered the little bit of fresh potting soil as much as possible with large flat stones, and then pushed the roots of the aqua fern into a hole left in the soil.  More small stones secure that fern in place.

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January 16, 2015 signs 021

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Finally, I poured a thin layer of quartz sand over everything to seal and cover the soil, added bottled spring water, and added a few mineral specimens as accents.

As with all first attempts, I’m already considering how this could be better.

The container is perhaps a little small for two ferns.  Maybe I should have skipped the potting soil entirely, and used only the crested Java fern in this construction.  I may still pull it back out and give it its own container.

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January 16, 2015 terrarium 005

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I”m also wondering whether the water is too high for the aqua fern.  Maybe it should grow in a boggy environment with mosses instead of in this ‘aqua-terrarium.”

And of course, I would love to add one of those cute little frogs we spotted at Petco…  But that presents its own challenges, and questions, doesn’t it?

I’ve placed this new ‘aqua-terrarium in bright but indirect light and will just observe it for a while.

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January 16, 2015 terrarium 006

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I’m hoping you have an opinion or some advice in all of this…

What do you think about this genre of terrarium?  How would you proceed?  Is this an interesting little indoor winter garden?

I have mixed feelings about it.

I’m not sure that either fern is shown off to advantage with this configuration, but as they relax and adapt, they continue to improve in appearance.

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January 16, 2015 terrarium 007

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I especially like the tips of the little crested Java fern as seen underwater.  They somehow resemble frogs’ hands…

 

Woodland Gnome 2014

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