Woodland Tableau

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Cathy, at  Rambling in the Garden, urges us to bring cut flowers indoors for a vase each Monday.  But instead of filling a vase, I’ve made my foliage arrangement today in small pots.

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My inspiration came from an intriguing photo in the fall 2016 Country Gardens magazine.  In the article, ‘The Splendor of Seedpods;” there is a log centerpiece, covered in moss, small ferns, Rex Begonias and various seedpods.  It is simply stunning. 

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But, copying this arrangement meant finding a partially hollowed out log of the right size for one’s table.  The more I thought about putting a real decaying log in my dining room, and the little bugs which might come with it, the more I searched for another way to accomplish a similar effect.

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Center pot from Mossy Creek pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

Begonia Rex in a hand thrown pot  from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

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My version uses a handmade pottery tray as the base.  The  ferns, ivy, and Rex Begonias are all potted, then their pots arranged with small animals, bits of glass and stones.  Moss pulled from the garden finishes each little pot.

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The three main pots are cast clay, shaped to look like stones.  I’ve grown succulents in them most years, but they’ve been empty for the past several months.  They recycled nicely into this arrangement.

The two glazed pots came from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, Oregon.   The tray was found at a tag sale a few years ago.  But it is a signed original, and I enjoy it very much.

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The classic terra cotta pot has languished in my potting area for several years, awaiting inspiration to find it a new use.  It, and the other pots with drainage holes were lined with a sheet of burlap before I filled them with good potting soil.  Lay a layer of aggregate, like pebbles, in any pots without drainage holes, before adding the plant and its soil.

I’ve chosen two tender ‘Tabletop’ ferns (Pteris species) and a division of a tender Lady fern from one of my hanging baskets.  These little ‘tropicals’ are easy to find at big box stores which sell little houseplants, and the needlepoint ivy and Begonia came from our local Lowes.

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This is a nice, relaxed, woodsy arrangement to carry us through the autumn months.  I can add a few little pumpkins or gourds in the weeks ahead.  All of these plants should grow fine in the low light of our dining room.

If you want to copy this design, be creative with re-purposing things you already have lying around.  I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week,  collecting the materials and plants before assembling it all this afternoon.  It can be great fun to find new ways to use containers already in ‘the collection.’

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I hope that Cathy will accept this humble aberration from her floral meme.  Eventually, those Begonias will sport blossoms, after all.

But I find great beauty in foliage, too, and appreciate its longevity.  This little arrangement should be alive and growing for many weeks on our dining table.

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Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a 'houseplant..'  These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a ‘houseplant.’ These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Table Top Fern

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This ‘Birdsfoot’ or ‘Table top fern,’ remains one of my favorite ferns.  I’ve been searching for one for at least a year now, both in local shops and online.

With sleet and temperatures already falling; we ran to the grocery store for a few last minute items yesterday afternoon.  I checked the floral department (as I always do) and found this beauty, the only one left, mixed in with the Pothos and Kalanchoes.

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What a treasure! This was my reward for braving the elements in the midst of a winter storm to pick up some last minute groceries!

Birdsfoot fern, Pteris cretica, has very different fronds from traditional ‘Boston’ style ferns.  Its unusually shaped fronds and beautiful markings have always caught my eye.

Each frond grows from a creeping rhizome, and the plants can spread over rocky soil to cover large areas.  Known as a ‘brake’ fern, these tender evergreen ferns may be found in the wild in many parts of the world, including the Mediterranean island of Crete, which is the native home of this the Pteris cretica.

Pteris cretica is cultivated mainly as a houseplant in the United States.  In fact the name ‘table top fern’ is given because it grows so well as a medium sized houseplant, fitting neatly on a table.  Preferring shade, Pteris cretica grows well in the low light conditions found in most homes.  Several different cultivars, with various degrees of variegation, may be found.

They live quite happily in moist, shady areas outside, so long as night time temperatures remain well above freezing.

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When I took a close look at this little fern yesterday evening, it was apparent that it needed a good soaking since it was both dry and pot bound.  Its roots had grown out of the drainage holes of its pot a long while ago.  I gave it a drink of warm water and let it rest overnight.

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It badly needed release from its tiny nursery pot, and so I chose an elegant Japanese bowl as its temporary home to wait out the rest of winter.

Since the bowl has no drainage, we lay a foundation of medium stones and sphagnum moss to prevent the fern’s roots from becoming waterlogged.  Fresh potting soil, with an extra dose of Osmocote fertilizer, provide a good foundation for the root ball.

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Although the pot appeared to fit in the bowl to begin with, the root ball ended up as too tall to fit once the bowl was prepared.  I gently teased the roots apart and spread them slightly to make the fern fit, and then covered the soil with a layer of various mosses.  The soil appears slightly mounded since the fern’s crown sits slightly higher than the rim of the bowl.

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Re-hydrated, the fronds of this little fern have relaxed and taken on a healthy glow.  Only two fronds didn’t re-hydrate and had to be cut away.

I’ll grow this fern on for the next few weeks before moving it outside into a larger pot in late spring.  It can be divided then, or transplanted whole.

So long as it remains warm and moist, this fern remains a very tough and long-lived plant.  If you haven’t grown a ‘table top fern’ yet, please give it a try next time you see one offered for sale.

Although ferns never bloom, they offer interesting and consistent texture and color both in a pot and in the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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