I love this time of year – the garden is filling out, there are huge changes from day to day and Next Door’s Cat appears to have found an alternative feline toilet (or has maybe just moved elsewhere in my garden, somewhere with less foliage to get in the way). Some of my favourite plants for right now are my selection of ferns, some inherited, some deliberate.

It’s fiddlehead time!

fiddlehead 1

All the labels have been tossed about the garden by several generations of blackbirds, so identification is not easy. I know what I planted, and roughly where, but some things die and others have been moved over the years and some were just here anyway, so if anyone is a fern expert, pleas help!

This beast, I am almost 100% certain, is my Dryopteris cycadina:

Dryopteris cycadina

Very strange. Very prehistoric, even for a fern.

An inherited one now, or is it?

Dim suniad

This is ridiculous. The idea of four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie seems more appealing by the minute. Plus they make a noise like a herd of elephants charging through a forest while they’re doing it – quite startling if you’re not expecting it. I’ve been out there with the list of what I’ve bought over the years, the rough plans I’ve made, the notes and the assortment of discarded plant labels. and I’m still not much the wiser. This year I’ll have another go once they’re in full leaf. Frond. Full frond.


Some were never labelled, of course, because they were just here. Doing their thing in the wet west, growing like mad and looking wonderful. I have a huge collection of Dryopteris felix-mas, but what’s this one, with its distinctive ruby stems? Roger Phillips is no use; the RHS guide doesn’t help.

I suppose I shouldn’t really care; they’re beautiful. Why do I need to put names to them? Because, I think, that’s what humans do: going right back to the Garden of Eden (allegedly). We organise. We label. And, boy, would I like to label some of my ferns. So if anyone knows a good reference book, a really useful website or anything else helpful, please let me know.

and again



14 Comments Add yours

  1. Julieanne says:

    People that might be able to help are @FibrexNurseries. When I was deciding on what ferns to buy I asked them questions on Twitter and they were incredibly helpful and they seem to know their stuff.

    1. kate says:

      Now there’s a thought. I follow them on Twitter too…

  2. Pauline says:

    Do Blechnum spicant Rickards Serrate or Doodia media ring any bells? I have 2 fern books”The Plantfinders Guide to Garden Ferns” by Martin Rickard and “The Plantlovers Guide to Ferns” by Richie Steffen and Sue Olsen. I refer to them all the time when including ferns in my posts, for the spelling if for nothing else!

    1. kate says:

      They don’t, unfortunately – but some of them were purchased a long time ago – even before I really started work on the garden and before I was able to actually live in the house. I went to a small, very specialist plant fair on Llyn and there was a stall entirely in ferns, might even have been Rickards (though everything changed very soon afterwards). Thank you for those two titles – investigating!

  3. lovely curled shoots Kate, do you have any photos where you may have named them when you still knew the name, it can be frustrating not knowing names, good luck, enjoy them anyway name or no name, Frances

    1. kate says:

      That’s a thought – I’ll go back through my files! Thanks, Frances!

  4. Anna says:

    They are most intriguing and appealing Kate whatever name they answer to. Timber Press have just published ‘The Plant Lover’s Guide to Ferns’, by Richie Steffen and Sue Olsen. I’m not sure whether this is an update of the book Pauline mentioned as the author is different. I would be baking two dozen magpies given the chance as I’m sure one of their numbers is responsible for wrecking the wren’s nest just outside our back door 😦

    1. kate says:

      Aren’t they? I’m sure they’d be just as beautiful if I could put names to them, mind… I’m being very careful indeed with the new ones, positions marked carefully on plan, labels wedged etc.

      Magpies – mine seem to have moved on, for some reason, but I’d happily trade you for jackdaws. Not only are they a menace on all sorts of levels, they seem very careless of their own fledglings (yuk) while scrapping with each other in the trees. I have, however, found that fledgling corpses disappear by themselves. Rats, I expect. Next Door’s Cat is far too well-fed to bother with something as revolting as a dead jackdaw chick.

  5. croftgarden says:

    They are lovely, but a rose by any other name…? You could always make-up your own. No I should be ashamed of myself for even thinking of it. Dryopteris f-m is part of the D.affinis complex, a group of apomictic ferns which produce lots of variant seedlings by asexual reproduction. So it’s not that heretical to suggest that you could apply your own names!

    1. kate says:

      There is so much Drypoteris felix-mas in this garden (fortunately I love it), that variant seedlings wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Dryopteris katensis, maybe? Drypteris next-door’s-catiis? Oh dear, maybe I’ve had too much coffee!

      Thank you so much for the reassurance that it’s not just me being dim with ferns. Nor is it all entirely all the fault of the blackbirds. (P removed a dead one – nothing to do with me, honest, despite the threats – from the bottom garden on Monday, but Next Door’s Cat has just brought it back for me, slightly, er, used. I am dead-bird phobic, possibly due to a childhood chickens/fox interaction which I discovered. P not back for a few days. Next Door’s Cat has lost interest. Am hoping it will just vanish. Where are the badgers when you actually need them?)

  6. hillwards says:

    No help at all, but they are marvellous and other-worldly x

    1. kate says:

      You’re sooo right about the otherworldliness – when I was a child I used to get down to eye level and have my dolls-house dolls being explorers in a jungle. Must rediscover that (but maybe not today – it’s raining).

  7. Spade & Dagger says:

    Have you tried the RHS plant identification service? I’m not sure how many they will consider at once or even if they can separate such tricky specimens (sending leaf samples, photos etc helps). You do need to be (or know) an RHS member to use this service.

    1. kate says:

      Now there’s a thought I’d not had – nice one! I left the RHS a couple of years ago, but I know several people who are still in it…

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