Ferns are very old plants in the scheme of things, millions of years older than flowering plants. Over 300 million years ago they formed a very important part of the earth’s vegetation (and have helped in the creation of our present day oil supplies), and over ten thousand species of fern are known today. There are many exotic ferns which most people would enjoy, but which are difficult to get hold of and grow because they need special conditions to make them think they are at home in their native forest or fern gullies. Filmy ferns with transparent leaves just one cell thick are exquisitely beautiful, but need a constant temperature of about 45C, very high humidity and grow best in subdued light. Tree ferns are very attractive plants, but they are now virtually impossible to obtain as many of them are rare and considered endangered. In Guyana there is the Cyathea tree fern growing in the Mount Roraima range, but the right conditions could not be reproduced on the coast without a great deal of expense. They are best left where they are in peace in their ancient, damp secluded and safe environment. However, there are many ferns left which are readily available and which can give the ordinary gardener a sense of their beauty and value.
Making up the hanging basket
The breadfruit fern and the Hares foot fern are really great for hanging baskets. Making up a hanging basket for ferns or indeed for any plant is a fairly easy thing to do. The first thing to do is to get hold of a large pot, put it on the potting bench and rest the empty hanging basket on it. The pot must be large enough to seat the basket so that it doesn’t fall over as you are making it up.
So how do you put the soil in the basket without it running straight out again? Professional growers and really well-prepared amateurs will have sphagnum moss handy and will line the basket with it, adding compost to the basket as the level of the moss is built up. With care the same procedure can be adopted by packing coconut fibre or the husk itself around the basket, increasing the level of compost as you go on. I have seen others use green mosquito netting and even plastic sheeting with holes made for drainage.
Of all the choices, I prefer the green sphagnum moss for the simple reason that it is a water indicator. It is not always easy to check out whether the compost in a basket is too dry.
When it is just right the moss remains green. When it is too dry the moss turns brownish and remains so until the water is applied when it goes green again. Naturally it is virtually impossible to obtain in Guyana, so the choice left is a natural look (coconut fibre) or an artificial look (netting or plastic) which we hope will eventually be hidden by the foliage of the ferns. More of this next week until then may your God go with you.