Last spring while choosing plants for our patio, I deliberated between a couple different ferns at our favourite Portland plant and flower shop, Sammy’s.
One was huge and bushy and beautiful. It was a showpiece, the kind of fern you stop to admire while hiking in the forest. I loved it. But it was so big I thought it might overpower the space, and overshadow the other plants.
The other fern was lovely, too. It was smaller, less bountiful, less of a ‘center stage’ player, but a solid, hardy-looking plant. It’s a better size for our patio, I told myself. It won’t obstruct the view of the trees. It was also less expensive. It’s the fern I bought.
I transplanted that fern from its plastic pot into a wire-frame hanging basket lined with moss, and hung it on a hook above the railing. It was the first plant to grace our new patio, and it looked good. I planted a bunch of starter fuschias in an identical basket and hung it on a hook beside the fern, and the two plants shared the shade all summer. I watered, misted, and trimmed out any browning leaves. The fern grew, a little, but its fronds never became overly full or bushy. It didn’t try to become something it wasn’t.
I liked that fern, a lot.
But I didn’t love it. I always wished I had gotten the bigger one.
When the weather turned cold, we brought the fern inside, where it lived on a counter in the bathroom all winter. We thought the steam from the shower would keep it happy, but our apartment’s heat blasted through a vent above the sink, and soon the floor was covered in dry, dead leaves, which we periodically swept up. I kept it watered and remembered to mist it once in a while, but the fronds just got browner and continued to shed. One weekday morning in February Joe decided the entire thing needed to be pruned back and went at it with a pair of scissors, leaving just a dirt-covered clump with a few stringy green roots.
“You’ve got to fertilize it, honey,” my mom said over the phone. “And you have to mist. Those suckers hate the heat.”
About a month ago, we moved the fern back outside and hung it in last summer’s spot. I half-heartedly picked away at the last brown bits and continued to water it. Next weekend I’ll fertilize, I told myself. See if I can bring it back. Weekends passed. I did nothing. And then I walked past Sammy’s and noticed their new spring plants displayed outside, with a fat, lush, fern practically calling to me, its green and gold fronds exploding from the basket.
Joe didn’t take much convincing. “Would love to go for a walk with you after you get home,” I said via Gchat on Friday afternoon. “And stop at Sammy’s…they have some ferns. You into that?”
I mean, how could he not be?
This is a fern-lovers fern.
It’s the kickoff to spring, our new pride-of-the-patio, a plant to sit back and admire with a glass of wine on a Friday evening.
Even Cleo is a fan.
(Either that or she’s hiding from it.)
I’m not sure what the central lesson is here, but a few come to mind.
* There is no such thing as ‘too big’ when you’re talking about ferns. Crowds? Sure. Mountains you’re considering climbing? Yes. Bowls of pasta? Debatable. Not ferns.
* You need to fertilize. And mist. You need to nurture the thing year-round, not just when it’s looking its best.
* Happiness can be found in a hanging basket, in the pattern on a leaf, lit by the sun between rain showers. Small joys like this are what fertilize the soul.
* Get the one you really want.