Lush Foliage for Low-Light Rooms : Terrarium Bowls Continued …

January 14th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

A pedestal-bowl terrarium filled with Adiantum, (Maidenhair fern), Calathea lanceolata and Selanginella kraussiana, (Club moss), warms up a modern metallic vanity in the powder room…

Grey. Grey. Grey. Today the sky is one big, dull, expanse of monochromatic ash. On days like this, with thick, low clouds and no sunshine to be found, low-light rooms inside the house can seem particularly dark. Even the sunniest of homes usually have a few shadowy spaces, and although the hard metal finishes in modern bathrooms, and cool-colored interior walls may sparkle on sunny days, in the dead-of winter, this kind of decor can leave you cold. These gloomy spots always seem to benefit from a splash of lush, verdant color.

Houseplants can add natural warmth to indoor spaces, particularly those with modern, minimalist designs. Sleek materials, like stainless steel and glass, are easily enlivened with a touch of green foliage. True, dark rooms can be a challenge for indoor gardening – cactus, herbs and succulents will wither in dank spaces. But filtered light will support many beautiful foliage plants, such as ferns and moss, and a few blooming tropicals, (including African violets, begonias and orchids).

Terrariums are a great way to display rainforest tropicals and shade loving plants of all kinds. Humidity tends to be higher in bathrooms, making this room the perfect place for moisture-seeking plants. My tiny first-floor powder room was looking particularly gloomy last week, so I put together an open terrarium in a glass-pedestal bowl. This wasn’t an expensive project, in fact the total cost, including both plants and glass bowl, came to $16. This terrarium, (pictured in my bathroom in the photo at top), includes maidenhair fern, (Adiantum), calathea, (C. lanceolata), and club moss, (Selanginella kraussiana), all purchased from The Old Schoolhouse Plantery, just down the road. I love how this tiny bowl completely changes the mood of my metallic little space.

Over the holidays, I made a low-light terrarium gift for my sister, (pictured below). This large, thick-glass bowl is filled with an African violet, (Saintpaulia), club moss, (Selanginella kraussiana), and a beautiful begonia called ‘Kit Kat’. I added a clear glitter ball, (from Michael’s craft store), for a bit of sparkle. My sister lives in an old New England home, with many dark, interior rooms. Low-light plants like begonias thrive in these conditions. However, wood-stoves and dry heating-systems can make for a challenging house-plant environment. This is where terrariums come in particularly handy. Glass-houses, even tiny ones, hold moisture and increase the humidity in the terrarium’s micro-climate. Although open-bowl planters require more attention than closed, cloche-style or Wardian case terrariums, they have a few advantages. Begonias, and certain other plants, can sometimes suffer from mold in an excessively moist, closed terrarium. Since my sister has a new baby to care for, I wanted to give her a relatively easy-to-care for gift. We’ll check in to see how she rates it in a few more weeks.

When designing indoor containers for dimly-lit room, it helps to pay attention to foliage texture and pattern. Try to select a few different textures; combining smooth, lacey, velvety, and/or hairy leaves for contrast. Also have a look at leaf-pattern. To my eye, leaves can be even more spectacular than bloom. Colored veining, bold stripes and splotches, and tonal variation are all things to look for in plants. Begonia, viola, peperomia, calathea and pilea are all easy to come by in greenhouses, and offer a wide range of foliage color and texture. I like to use ferns to lighten-up the look of a terrarium, (particularly the maidenhair ferns), and mosses of all kinds add a velvety touch to a glass container. Glass balls, mirrors, prisms and other sparkly details can also help to catch light and reflect color in a dark space.

For instructions on how to create a terrarium, and for helpful resources and more ideas, you can travel back to my earlier posts, “Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Terrariums Part One…“, and “…Part Two“. Stay tuned for more indoor gardening projects to make your winter a bit more lush…

A terrarium-bowl filled with Begonia ‘Kit Kat’, Saintpaulia, (African violet), Selaginella kraussiana, (Club moss), and a sparkle-ball accent

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Article and photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Ode to a Fiddlehead…

July 16th, 2009 § Comments Off on Ode to a Fiddlehead… § permalink

The woodland path at Ferncliff – Image ⓒ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

Call me a fiddle-head, it is true. I have a long standing love-affair with ferns. Ostrich and Cinnamon, Maidenhair and Lady, Autumn and Christmas; even their names delight me, and I can never seem to get enough of this delicate, feathery species. My affection can be traced back to the summers of my childhood; those long, hot afternoons and fading twilight hours spent exploring abandoned stone foundations and hidden brooks in the forest beyond my home. There, beneath the shade of tall trees, ferns became woven crowns and verdant skirts fit for imaginary forest royalty. To my eye, when it comes to beauty in the plant world, foliage truly equals flower. What could be more beautiful than the fern? Shimmering, silver fiddleheads unfurling from damp earth, luminous feather paths winding through dark tree-trunks, and lacy plumes softening rugged outcroppings of rock and ledge; ferns possess some of the most dramatic foliage in the forest.

Native to North America, the cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamonea, pictured below), is a perfect example of the long-lasting beauty of this foliage plant. In very early spring, the fuzzy, silvery-white tipped fiddle-heads of cinnamon fern emerge from the forest floor. As the first tightly wrapped heads unfurl, (reaching upward 2-4 feet), they quickly transform into stunningly beautiful, rich cinnamon stalks, followed by rapidly emerging, bright green fronds. By midsummer, the foliage of the cinnamon fern deepens to a regal emerald hue. Later, in autumn, the bold foliage turns a brilliant gold that absolutely glows in the forest. As lovely as it is in a natural setting, the cinnamon fern is also a spectacular addition to the garden. This non-aggressive plant forms thick but contained clumps of growth. As a companion to spring flowering bulbs, and a contrast to the exfoliating bark of trees, (river birch, stewartia and paperbark maple spring to mind), the design possibilities of both the lush foliage and cinnamon-colored stalks make the cinnamon fern one of my favorites.

cinnamon-fern-stalksCinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamonea) – Image: Georgian Court University

Cinnamon fern’s close relative, the interrupted fern, (Osmunda claytonia), is another gorgeous native plant. As the fiddle-heads unfurl to a height of 2-3 feet, the foliage on this fern’s upright, fertile fronds is interrupted midway by sporing pinnae. This break gives the plant its common name, ‘interrupted’ fern. The non-sporing fronds arch away from the plant dramatically, creating an attractive, flowing green mound. Interrupted ferns prefer slightly damp conditions, where they forms natural groupings in the wild. As a garden plant, the interrupted fern is endlessly useful in dappled light and partly sunny conditions. Though large, the airy fronds of this fern combine well with many trees, shrubs and perennials.

interrupted-fernInterrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)

The Christmas fern, (Polystichum acrostichoides), is an evergreen fern, and one of the most shade tolerant members of this species. Another North American native, this leathery-leafed plant can often be found carpeting steep banks in densely forested areas. As a garden plant, the soil-stabilizing qualities of Christmas fern make it an excellent choice for shady slopes and other places where erosion is a concern. In Northern woodlands, the beauty of this plant’s glossy, deep green foliage is well appreciated in late autumn and early winter, when most deciduous trees have shed their leaves and the forest floor has turned brown.

christmas-fernChristmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

It is easy to understand how the enormous, feathery plumes of Ostrich fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica, pictured below), earned their name.  This gorgeous fern is also one of my favorites, and placed with care, it can be a fantastic garden plant. Ostrich fern spreads by aggressive rhizomes, making it useful as a ground cover in damp areas. If planted in a dry spot, (as it is in my secret garden), however, Ostrich fern is mild mannered and easily contained. In it’s ideal conditions, (moist, dappled shade), this fern can reach nearly six-feet in height. And although there is no autumn color, if the plant receives ample moisture, it will remain attractive and green through late autumn.

naturally-occuring-ostrich-fern-at-ferncliffOstrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica) is a member of the cliff fern family.

The delicate and airy, native maidenhair fern, (Adiantum pedatum), and lady fern, (Athyrium felix-feminina), are commonly used in gardens, and with good reason. Both of these plants are not only beautiful but tough, tolerating a wide variety of soil conditions and changing light. Although both ferns prefer dappled shade and moist soil, they will succeed under less favorable circumstances, and need not be coddled. Lady fern in particular has become popular with commercial growers, and it seems a new variety is available whenever I pick up a magazine or catalogue. Beyond the commonly available lady fern, (a member of my favorite group, the cliff ferns), I have come to enjoy the sanguine stems of Athyrium felix-feminina, “Lady in red”, as they emerge along my garden wall.

lady-fernLady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) ‘Lady in Red’ and companion Huechera ‘Green Spice’

maiden-hair-fernThe northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) planted with Hosta.

Many of the other ferns native to North America, such as the bracken fern, (Pteridium aquilinum), and hay-scented fern,(Dennstaedtia puctilobula), are lovely in naturalized settings, or singular landscape uses, but are far too aggressive for mixed borders or perennial gardens. Hay-scented fern forms dense carpets, and it is particularly beautiful and useful along woodland paths, hedges, walks and driveways, and beneath dense foliage trees.

natural-grouping-of-bracken-fern-at-ferncliffBracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) beautiful in naturalized areas, is an aggressive spreader.

natural-grouping-of-hay-scented-bracken-and-interrupted-fern-at-ferncliffA natural grouping of hay-scented, bracken and interrupted ferns in the forest at Ferncliff.

In addition to the many ferns native to North America, introduced garden ferns and hybrids, such as the Japanese painted fern, (Athyrium nipponicum, “Pictum”), are spectacular plants for light to dense shade situations. Beautiful, subtle color variations in fern foliage can be played against one another and in combination with other plants to create breathtakingly beautiful patterns. A ground-cover of perennial ferns can become a living tapestry to be enjoyed throughout the growing season, year after year. Athyrium x “Ghost” is a particularly beautiful fern, and I have found the color varies a bit by placement and light. The frosty white fronds are stunning at twilight in darker corners of my garden.

Athyrium x ‘Ghost’ planted to with Hosta ‘August Moon’ , Astilbe, Lamium and Cryptotaenia japonica

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, planted with Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Atropurpurea’

japanese-painted-fernJapanese painted fern, Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, nestled beside Hosta and seeded Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’

Having named my garden Ferncliff, it should come as no surprise that I am a true fern-fanatic. When designing gardens here and elsewhere, I am always on the look-out for new ways to use ferns in garden settings. Ferns are remarkably versatile plants; softening formal designs and lending elegance to modest buildings and simple features. Ferns can be planted in urns to flatter classical architecture, or in geometrically precise planters to harmonize with more modern landscapes. The airy quality of ferns provides movement in shady nooks with the slightest breeze, and the textural qualities of fronds enliven the edge of still or slow-moving water features and smooth wall surfaces. The possibilities of ferns are limited only by imagination.

fern-in-courtyardOstrich Fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica), softening the edge of the secret garden at Ferncliff.

For more information on ferns, see Martin Rickard’s The Plantfinder’s Guide to Garden Ferns, (copyright 2000, Timber Press).

Image of Cinnamon Fern: Georgian Court University

Article and all other photographs copyright 2009 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden


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