Ferns are ancient but spectacular plant and the most spectacular of all are tree ferns from down under – especially when cosseted in a conservatory
Conservatories are a wonderful way to revel in the natural world when, in truth, it is far too dreary to be outdoors! But why not enjoy your own mini Jurassic Park, too, and drink your coffee amongst plants that date from the days of the dinosaurs? Tree ferns are fabulous and exotic conservatory subjects. They are also remarkably tolerant and pest free.
Look for Dicksonia antarctica, a super, evergreen, tree-like fern, originating from Australia, which will bring a touch of the primitive to any conservatory. These prehistoric plants have survived unchanged since the days of Tyrannosaurus rex. They have stout trunks covered with brown fibres, which are actually an accretion of aerial roots, crowned with arching, much divided, palm-like fronds.
The trunks are slow growing – approx 2.5 cm (1in) per year - but the fronds are something else entirely, reaching 2m or so (6ft) long in a season, so they make dramatic and highly visible specimens from the word go. See too, similar but stockier, Dicksonia fibrosa, and Dicksonia sqaurrosa, which will stand more sun.
Cyathea milnei, is a rare and attractive tree fern which has rather paler, and more delicate leaves than the dicksonias. Cyathea medullaris has dramatic black stems, while Cyathea tomentossima has attractive lacy leaves and reaches 2m (6ft) or so in height.
Cycads are another primitive must have; their fossils date back over 200 million years – relative babies next to the tree ferns! They look something like a cross between a tree fern and a palm. Cycas revoluta, the Japanese sago palm, is the most commonly found, and is a choice, slow-growing, evergreen exotic. It has an attractive trunk, fat and pineapple shaped, topped with a rosette of stiff, feathery leaves. With time it has a height and spread of 1-2m (3-6ft)
Indoors, all of these subjects like a bright but filtered light and moderate to high humidity in the summer months. The compost should be rich, but free draining, and they relish plenty of water and feeding when they are in full growth. In winter keep the compost just moist and give them as much light as possible.
All of them also enjoy a spell in the garden in the summer, while Dicksonia antarctica will survive the winter in milder areas, though it will lose its fronds and the crown needs protecting from frost with fleece or straw.