Plant of the Month – January

Apologies for no ‘Plant of the Month’ last month, we took the time off for good behaviour.

So, January, new year, same garden. Sounds boring. But we’re excited! Oh yes. The mild weather has pulled the garden along nicely. The first week of January saw the first aconites appear, peeking out from under some ferns. Snowdrops were already showing white before Christmas but Galanthus ‘Mrs McNamara’ and ‘Wendy’s Gold’ are now fully out and jigging in the wind. Pink hellebores seem to be more forward than the white, the latter being this wonderful mixture of gold/lime/parchment colour still in bud with this curious texture like matt silk or shark skin (I read too much ‘House and Garden’).

But, back to those ferns. They are a pash of mine and have been from the beginning. I love they way they are calming and woodsy one minute and then lush and tropical the next depending on how the sun is glinting on them. They act rather shrub like, in that they may sit and do nothing for a couple of years and then in their third, they’ll have got their roots down and will explode in size and vigour. Winter is often their best time as they are at their biggest unless snow has beaten them down. Some, such as the polypodiums are at their greenest or lime-est now. Positioned next to snowdrops they pull the green out and give a much kinder background colour than the usual bare earth. By Spring, the old fronds will have turned brown and you cut them off and then you wait for the new ones to unfurl. But they often take their time – no Spring rush for them.

We have a plant of Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’. Very strong lime green colour – like a frilly lettuce from a distance. It is tucked under the dry stone brick walls at the top of the garden, facing north. In the summer it is virtually dormant having a rest during the drier months, its place filled by Alchemilla alpina, a non thuggish alchemilla a third of the size, in all its parts, of mollis. It is unusual to have such a strong, lush green herbaceous plant in winter. Bergenias are leathery and heavy in comparison.

We almost lost Polystichum setiferum (Divisilobum Group) due to sun stroke. We imagined that the plants at the side of it would provide the shade the ferns required. They didn’t. So last summer they were unceremoniously hoicked out and moved to a lovely damp, shady wall bottom – the kind of place that most plants rot in. Aconites have appeared next to them making us feel very smug and pleased. For summer ‘colour’ we put in some  Athyrium niponicum seedlings that had previously fried to a crisp in the same border as the Polystichum before their move. These are streaked with violet and purple over the usual green, delicate fronds. They don’t have any white in them such as in var. pictum – too ornamental for this position.

Care involves mainly watching them – no hardship there. Too much sun, they will tell you. Do something about it or they won’t thrive. They may not die but they will look thin, dusty and wan, and live up to their old reputation of being dull and only useful for boring, forgettable places. No plant deserves that. If you have it, surround them with leaf mould. They’ll adore you for it.

Ferns aren’t boring! I’m off to coo over ‘Bevis’ – in the rain!

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One thought on “Plant of the Month – January

  1. I love ferns but it has crept up on me quietly. I realised the other day how many I had and how I am drawn to them at any plant sale. Have a small border of Japanese ferns which looks wonderful at the moment.

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