There are quite a few fern species which are probably best described as tree ferns, for the simple reason that they have a ‘trunk.’ Most of these are to be found in New Zealand and Australia, but we have some in Guyana as well. They are notable at higher altitudes in the Pakaraimas, and thank goodness for that otherwise they would be subjected to the attention of collectors which are a real pain in the southern hemisphere. However I am not concerned with tree ferns for the present, but only with the small ferns many of which are suitable for the house and conservatory.
For the growers in Georgetown and along the coast (provided they are protected from salt laden sea breezes) maidenhair ferns, birds-nest ferns, various Pteris ferns and Aspleniums are all excellent for use in the home. Davallias are first class for hanging baskets, the breadfruit polypodium and the ladder ferns (Nephrolepis) are good for borders on the shady side of the house. One of the more challenging ferns are the Platyceriums. These are by nature epiphytic ferns; that is growing off the ground. They are called stag’s horn ferns because their leaves resemble the antlers of a stag, but for most growers they may be too much trouble. It is one of the oddities that the fruiting bodies of ferns are called spores, and resemble spots on the underside of their leaves. Often gardeners are a little confused by them and think that their plants have caught some disease, but there is nothing to worry about there.
Now a word on orchids. All orchids are divided into two groups: those that grow on the ground which are called terrestrial or ground orchids, and those which grow off the ground in trees or on rocks which are called epiphytic orchids. Ground orchids get their nutrition from the ground on which they grow, whilst epiphytes grow on trees from which they get no food and neither do they get food directly from the ground. Epiphytic orchids establish a foothold on their host, usually a tree, and then send down roots by the score. These absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. Now it is a fact that most orchid growers who grow epiphytic orchids grow them in pots, usually especially constructed for the purpose. These have extra holes in the sides to allow for the emergence of roots which are allowed to grow out and down through the slatted potting bench. These roots absorb water through their walls and eventually may reach the ground where they produce conventional roots. It is important that these roots are not damaged because this will delay flowering. It is also important that although the roots are kept damp that the tops of the plants are exposed to sunshine. Ideally the entire plant should be sprayed regularly to keep the atmosphere moist and buoyant to mimic the normal conditions in which they grow.
The compost in which orchids should be grown must be fibrous and well drained. No soil is required and probably the best thing you have is coconut fibre which has been well broken up so that it is truly fibrous, and then carefully packed round the roots.
Now it is quite possible to obtain young plants of orchids which have started off their lives in flasks. This in my experience is a good way to start growing your orchids, but it is a bit hit and miss as far as quality is concerned, with no guarantee of getting really first-class plants out of it and a good possibility of getting a lot of plants with flowers that are mediocre. Serious growers who might want to get hold of high quality orchids will have to look as far afield as the Far East. The costs are likely to be higher than flasks which are good for the novice. Hybrid orchids can be highly expensive. Until next week may your God go with you wherever you may be.