Ferns Growing in Wardian Cases and Bottle Gardens
Ferns in Bottle Gardens, Terrariums and Wardian Cases
A modern modification of the Wardian Case technique is the use of carboys, and large glass bottles of various kinds, in which can be formed miniature, self-supporting landscapes of suitable plants, sealed off from the vicissitudes of the open air. In this case, of course, the container cannot be drained, and care must be taken to prevent excess moisture, causing the compost to become sour.
To keep the compost sweet the best method is to include granulated charcoal in themixture. Charcoal has the unique property of absorbing harmful substances to a surprising extent.
Another point when preparing a carboy garden is to make sure that the compost has been sterilized before use, because unsterilized soil is sure to contain many weed seeds which will germinate freely in the sealed bottle and then unwanted plantlets can be extracted only with great difficulty.
At the same time any harmful insects or other detrimental organisms are eliminated by sterilization. Steam-sterilized soil mixtures can by purchased from horticultural nursery owners, or, if the reader intends to do a fair amount of pot culture of any plants, as well as the ferns, a small electric soil sterilizer will be found an invaluable aid to cultivation.
By the way, if the sterilization is to be done at home it is important to sterilize the loam, leafmould or other ingredients separately; never sterilize the mixed compost, because harmful substances can be produced by reactions between the various ingredients during the heating process. Generally speaking, newly sterilized soil should be kept for a week or two before using.
Compost for use in ashould be more gritty than that used for potting, because soil aeration is important, and the coarse gritty particles help to keep the soil open. A good all-round mixture for bottle gardens is one part loam to two parts good leafmould, or coarse granulated peat, and two parts of extra-coarse river sand. To each bushel of this mixture add a six-inch potful of granulated charcoal, a three-inch potful of hydrated lime, a two-inch potful of John Innes base, and mix all very thoroughly. If you intend to grow lime-hating ferns, the hydrated lime should be omitted.
Loam should be fibrous, and have a good crumb structure; heavy clay loans should be avoided. That obtained from rotted-down turf which has been stacked at least six months is usually the best, but often one has to be content with what is available. Good-quality loam usually can be obtained from a horticultural nursery owner.
The method of preparing a carboy for planting is first to thoroughly clean and dry the carboy, or bottle, and then to introduce the soil. Since damp soil will adhere to the sides of the carboy and be difficult to remove afterwards, the mixture should be on the dry side, so that it will run down into the bottom of the container quite freely.
Any compost adhering to the sides may be removed with the aid of a pad firmly attached to a cane. Then, before any planting is attempted the soil should be made evenly moist — not wet — by introducing a little water through a funnel to which is attached a length of rubber tubing sufficiently long to reach the compost. This should be three to four inches deep.
Allow plenty of time for the water to permeate the compost, and if necessary add a little more water and wait for this to spread throughout the soil. This should be damp right through, but not so wet as to become sticky when manipulated.
If too much water has been added, really it is best to wash out the container and make a fresh start.
The selection of plants for ais very important. Remember that growth will exceed what is usual in the open air, and stick to those species which cannot be expected to develop to such a size that they will overwhelm their weaker relatives.
I have seen recommended for carboy planting, that handsome woodland species, Dryopteris dilatata, the Broad Buckler Fern. Such a species could be introduced only as a small seedling, and no doubt would look well enough for a few weeks, but as this species when mature might be three feet high and four through, the effect in even the largest carboy would be a tangled mass of verdure, twisted and distorted, and there would be a real problem of how to get it out through the narrow neck of the carboy when it was realized that a fresh start would have to be made.
Whatever is chosen it must be small enough to pass through the neck of the container, without damage to the roots or fronds.
Before planting, it will be necessary to improvise some planting tools which can be inserted through the orifice with sufficient latitude to enable them to reach all parts of the compost. A builder’s lath with a V-shaped notch cut in the end is useful for holding the plants, and an old kitchen fork firmly attached to a cane makes an efficient instrument for manipulating the soil into suitable contours for effective planting.
An effective tool for holding plants steady or for lifting them if it is wished to rearrange them is easily made by twisting together two wires of moderate gauge, of sufficient length, leaving the last inch untwisted, separating the wires to make a fork and bending this at right angles to the twisted part so that the fork can be worked underneath the crown of the plant you wish to move.
Having dug a hollow in the soil large enough to take the spread-out roots, the plant is held in position with the notched lath while soil is spread over them with the fork. Then the soil should be firmed by pressing gently with the lath.
Generally speaking it is best to plant the largest fern first, as it is much easier to arrange the smaller plants around it afterwards, without disturbing it. Preference should be given to evergreen ferns or ferns which retain their fronds fresh and green until the next season’s growth takes over. For this reason alone species of Athyrium, Dryopteris, Cystopteris and other deciduous species should be omitted. Suitable ferns for the dominant feature are many of the varieties of Phyllitis scolopendrium — the Hartstongue — such varieties as Phyllitis scolopendrium Crispum, P.s. Cristalum, P.s. Fimbriatum, P.s. Laceratum, P.s. Sagittatocristatum, are all good, though the first-mentioned will need a fairly large carboy to accommodate its full stature.
setiferum congestum is good, and some forms of vulgare, such as P.v. Congestum cristatum, and P.v. Elegantissimum, might he used. For smaller subjects the Spleenworts, species, are most useful and very elegant, and as ground cover the Filmy Ferns, Hymenophyllum tunbridgense and H. Wilsoni are ideal. If they can be obtained, the New Zealand Filmy Ferns are just right. Friends in New Zealand might be induced to send plants over. Wrapped in polythene as soon as collected and posted by airmail it usually is possible to get them in perfect condition, but they take a while to settle down.
Mecodium demissum is a good one and seems to settle down more readily than some. Mecodium sanguinolentum is another delightful species, but then there are dozens of species in New Zealand; if only they were readily available in Britain! I have not had personal experience of more than three or four.
The Killarney Fern, Trichomanes speciosum, is an ideal subject but would need a bottle to itself, as it will run around very freely when it gets established. The rhizome of this fern is best not covered with soil, but pegged down on the surface. It may need slight support until its roots take hold.
Some of the Selaginellas, too, may be used, but some species tend to spread very quickly, and would be more easily controlled in the Wardian Case rather than in a bottle garden. The smallapus is a very neat plant and will sow itself, making a carpet of delicate greenery.
One of the great advantages of ferns as inhabitants of the bottle garden is that their fronds remain in good condition and full beauty for many months and make no debris. Once the bottle garden or carboy is planted it should be stoppered and placed in a light position, but not in direct sunlight, and then it should be left severely alone so long as the plants remain healthy and grow in a satisfactory manner.
There should be sufficient moisture present to keep the plants going for months, but if water is required the barest sufficiency should be introduced with the funnel and rubber tube, directing the water between the plants and not on their fronds.fronds tend to bHacken if kept too wet in a close atmosphere.
It is a good plan to turn the container round every day, when dusting the room. This ensures that the plants get even illumination and therefore grow symmetrically. If left in one position for many days the fronds will become fixed in a leaning position as they grow towards the light, as their tissues harden quickly. It is then too late to counteract the inclined stems by turning the container round.
Apart from carboys, glass battery cases with glass tops can be used if they are of clear glass. Those confectionery jars which are so shaped that they incline towards the opening, to enable easy removal of their contents, make rather attractive containers.
Maintenance is very simple. It consists principally of removing any discoloured fronds which might start fungal attack, and rearranging the plants if they should become overcrowded, removing one or two if necessary into another container, or hardening off for planting in the open.
It is quite probable that seedling ferns will appear, in due course; these should not be allowed to develop to such an extent that they are overcrowding the original plants, but they could be removed and transferred to pricking-out boxes, kept close until growing freely, and then hardened off by giving air progressively, to grow into useful plants for replacements, should these ever be necessary.
One of the great advantages of growing ferns in Wardian Cases and bottle gardens is that one can go away on holiday without the trouble of arranging for the plants to be cared for in one’s absence, for they can be left quite safely for weeks at a time. Of course, provision must be made for living creatures if you have included any.