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Say house plant and many people think of a fern or something they think is a fern. Their next thought is likely to be Ďthatís a bit boringí. We think otherwise.

Ferns have devoted fans that collect them with love and ardour. They are the few. The many are those who think they are dull. If the latter, larger, group knew of fernsí distinguished history as house plants and their potential if looked after with imagination, they might easily change their minds.

It was the Victorians who gave ferns their fashionable status amongst houseplants. A remarkable man, Dr Nathaniel Ward invented a glass case that enabled plants to survive for a long time and which provided the principle for a bottle garden, which weíll talk about later. From his discovery in around 1830 it was not long before the sitting rooms of all fashion-conscious families had a glass case planted up with ferns.

The point of telling you that story wasnít just boring history, it had a point. The Victorians got it right with ferns as house plants by using them in groups and by thinking about their setting. This is still the key to their success. The single fern that you were given on Motherís Day or that you bought in a hurry to decorate the spare room for guests will inevitably look a bit lonely.

Group them together and you immediately create the feel of a garden, especially if you combine different ferns, some with luscious broad leaves like the Birdís Nest ferns, and the feathery types like the Maidenhair ferns. Grouping them together also creates a miniature climatic environment which encourages them to thrive.

The crucial elements in their positioning are light and humidity. It is a myth that ferns like being in semi-darkness; dark conditions indoors are quite different to dark conditions outdoors, and it is not a good idea to banish your ferns to a shrouded corner. More important, avoid direct sunlight, they will not enjoy being on a sunny south-facing table or windowsill; a bit of morning or evening sun is perfect; no real light all day only for those that prefer the gloom.

The ferns we grow indoors as houseplants are all relatives of the hardy ones that grow wild in Britain, they just originate from warmer Ė often tropical Ė climates. High, or at least constant, humidity is an essential, which is why the bathroom is often the best place for ferns.

In your sitting room the central heating will be a problem, so why not follow the example of the Victorians and grow your ferns in a glass case. Buy a fish aquarium, fill the bottom with gravel or clean, small stone chippings. Spread a layer 5-10 cms deep of ordinary growing compost, add a few larger stones and perhaps a piece of dead wood for effect and plant your ferns. The creation of a colony and the semi-enclosed glass surroundings will generate extra humidity as well as making a mini-fernery.

For more information on some different ferns click on the following names to go to George's Plantfinder database:


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