For the penurious gardener, there is joy in discovering seedlings of treasured plants, and a double measure when seedlings are found in just the right spot so they can be left to grow, undisturbed. In this garden there are many dozens, possibly hundreds of hellebore seedlings. Handfuls have been transplanted around, though only so many can be kept. Few of the hundreds of Japanese maples that sprout annually are keepers, and beginning a year ago, toad lily (Tricyrtis) seedlings popped up everywhere, it seems. These appear to be all of similar foliage and form (though all are too young yet for flowers that will determine if any are keepers), and all were in spots where they must be plucked out and replanted. While not a nuisance, the thrill is somewhat diminished when there are more seedlings than you can count.
Sensitive fern growing in damp gravel and muck, through the base of a heron statue, beside a constructed stream.
Occasionally, in damp, shaded areas I find a shallow rooted fern seedling (Sporophyte, from spores, not seed, as you probably already are aware) growing in leaf compost, most often the native Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis, above), but also Japanese Painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. ‘Pictum’, below). These do not grow in quantity, but along a constructed steam in the garden both ferns grow on moss covered stones beneath a canopy of serviceberry (Amelanchier) and Japanese maples.
A Painted fern growing in dry, cool ground beside the stream.
The form and coloration of the young Painted fern sporophyte (below) growing in the stream is not certain at this point, so it could possibly be offspring of the more upright growing ‘Ghost’ fern (Athyrium ‘Ghost’) instead. Whatever, I’ll be delighted, and I continually marvel when any seedling sprouts from moss or a crevice with little or no soil. I’m astonished when these survive through a winter, or for years, as they often do.
This sporophyte is growing in moss on this small stone that remains constantly damp in this stream. As the fern grows it might be more easily identified as Japanese Painted, or Ghost fern.
While I do not recommend digging plants from the forest, and certainly this can be illegal as well as destructive, I once transplanted several divisions from a vigorous colony of Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) that is growing in spring fed, damp shade at the forest’s edge that borders the garden (property I own). These were moved to an area much drier and sunnier (below), but here they have thrived despite the lack of shade, and additional divisions from this transplanted patch have been moved to an area of relatively dry shade. While it is early to tell if these will thrive, the ferns appear content and have grown to their full height this spring.
A few Ostrich ferns have spread to fill this two hundred square foot area, though they are easily controlled when they spread too far.
Ostrich fern is the tallest of the ferns in the garden, and curiously, while ferns are not eaten by deer or other wildlife, ones located in the sun are feasted upon by Japanese beetles. The most prominent ferns on this sunny patio are skeletonized by mid summer, though this does no harm except to their appearance. While the various ferns require little maintenance, Ostrich ferns beside this sunny patio must be regularly pruned, and plants that pop up between stones in the patio must be yanked out. While the initial planting of Painted ferns was purchased, as were Cinnamon, Tassel (below), and East Indian ferns, ones obtained at no cost are, of course, most treasured, and a bit of maintenance is not minded.