FERNS, as we all know, are more difficult to grow than many other plants, but this does not prevent the lover of fine plants from wishing she could grow them. The question is often asked, "Isn't there some in which I could make a success ? I wouldn't mind expense or trouble if I could have one really good Fern."
There is but one solution for this difficulty in the home where these plants fail to do well in the window, and that is the fernery, or fern-case.
The fern-case is, to all intents and purposes, a miniature greenhouse in which the air can be kept at almost any desired degree of moisture. The hot, dry air of the room is shut out, and the humid atmosphere within makes it possible to grow many plants which could not be grown outside such an enclosure, in the ordinary living-room.
Ferneries will be found on sale at most seed stores and among the plant dealers. These as a general thing, consist of an iron frame with glass sides and top, covering a pan filled with soil in which the plants are grown. They are, as a usual thing, so small that one good-sized plant will fill them, and therefore the person who is fond of variety would not be likely to be satisfied with them. Such a fernery, however, makes a charming ornament for the parlor if it contains but one good specimen of some beautiful Fern, with a carpet of feathery Lycopodium covering the soil about it. Half a dozen small plants can be grown in a case twelve by eighteen in size but one large plant will be more satisfactory.
In buying a case in which to grow a Fern of upright habit, be sure to get one that is high enough to admit of full development without the plant coming in contact with the glass of the top. Moisture will condense there, and if the delicate fronds are obliged to touch the wet glass and remain against it, they will soon blacken and decay.
In filling a fernery, be sure that your soil is very light and spongy. If full of fine, fibrous roots, all the better. It is absolutely necessary that no heavy soil, likely to become compact under the application of water, should be used. Put about an inch of charcoal in the bottom of the pan to act as drainage, and help to keep the soil sweet. Over this spread the soil to the depth allowable by the size of the pan, heaping it somewhat in the center. Into this set whatever plant you have selected for the center, and plant bits of Lycopodium, with tiny roots attached, about it. These can be secured by breaking apart an old plant. They will soon begin to grow, and in a short time the soil will be entirely covered with a network of green, vine-like branches, quite as dainty and delicate as those of the rarest Fern. While Lycopodiums are not Ferns, they have many of their peculiarities, and are quite as attractive, on a small scale.
Small Palms, like Cocos Weddeliana, will flourish in the fernery. So will some of the Begonias, like Weltoniensis and Washing-toniana, and fine specimens of the Rex section can be grown there if not kept too moist at the roots. Among the Maidenhair Ferns, cunea-tum will be found most useful. Ferns having long and spreading fronds, like those of the Nephrolepis and Pteris class, soon become too large for ferneries of ordinary size, and they lose their beauty as soon as obliged to crowd against the glass.
Great care must be taken in watering a fernery. Because of the constant evaporation which is taking place, there will be constant condensation on the glass, and this moisture will run down and return to the soil, unless the top of the fernery is kept open. It is impossible to lay down any definite rule for watering, but I would give this general one: Give more water only when there seems a prospect of the soil becoming dryer than leaf-mold usually is as we find it in the woods.
It is well to lift the cover of the fernery an inch or two, every day, to allow surplus moisture to pass off. Leave it open for an hour or two.
The most satisfactory of all ferneries for the parlor or living-room is one that is made to fit the window. Any carpenter-in fact, any man who is "handy with tools"-can make it. It is simply an enclosure of a space two feet, or thereabouts, in depth in front of the window at which you locate it. Stout iron brackets should be fastened to the lower part of the window-sill to furnish the necessary support.
Measure off pieces for the top and bottom of a length corresponding to the width of the window, from casing to casing. For the sides, have pieces as long as the window is high. When the sides and ends are put together, you will have a box without a bottom, just the size of the window-frame. This is to be fitted snugly against the frame, and fastened there securely. The front of the box is to be fitted with glass doors, hinged at the sides to admit of their opening in the middle. Have the glass in these doors as large as possible, so that as little as possible of the interior of the case will be hidden. Half-way up the window a shelf can be thrown across, if thought desirable, but the best pictorial effect is secured by omitting shelves, as they not only obstruct the upward growth of a tall plant, but detract from the appearance of the window, as pots on them will be so conspicuous as to prove annoying to the eye, though vines can be trained over them in such a manner as to hide their unsightliness to a great degree. A much more satisfactory effect is secured by leaving out the shelf, or shelves, and giving up the entire center of the window to a plant tall enough to reach almost to its top. Train vines up the sides to hide the interior of the case under a tracery of delicate greenery, and plant low-growing plants about the base of the large plant, which may be a Palm, a Dra-cena, a Boston Fern, or an Asparagus plu-mosus nanus. In winter a Calla will flourish there, and Primula obconica can be planted about it thickly, and made to cover the soil with its pretty foliage, above which its starry flowers will show to fine effect. In fact, almost any moisture-loving plant can be grown in a case of this kind, for the air inside it will not be as close as that inside the little ferneries made of iron and glass. Mosses from the woods, wild Ferns, Checkerberry and Prince's Pine will live for a long time in it, and often they will flourish in it as well as any of the plants obtained from the greenhouse. This will quite likely be the case if you lift them with a good deal of native soil adhering to their roots and plant them before it has a chance to become dry.