Marty's Garden, 4th of July, 2022

I might as well admit it. Despite my green thumb there is one family of indoor plants which I can not please. For 50+ years, across two continents and throughout three states, I have left a trail of dead ferns behind. To be frank: I am a serial fern killer.

It is not for lack of trying. It started out innocent enough. I remember pictures in women’s magazines: beautiful bathrooms with verdant greenery hanging from the ceiling or potted up in front of windows. Large ferns cascading, loving the humidity of bathrooms and growing ever bigger. My friends had them, so I had to try it too. It seems no sooner I hung one above the bathtub or leaflets started raining down into the tub. I watered it; more leaflets fell. Soon it was but a shadow of its former self and it went to that great garden in the sky. Several more followed over the years; all ended up the same way.


When I came to America it took several years before there were some extra dollars to spend on plants. First there were plants I could manage without a problem. They would grow so big I took cuttings and started new plants. But eventually I would come across a cute little fern and just had to take it home. I would mist it, water it, put it in the bathroom in front of the window. It died. I tried Boston ferns; maidenhair ferns, asparagus fern (which is not really a fern at all – I still killed it) and others.


One year The Spouse gave me a terrarium; the ultimate home for ferns. The glass enclosure would hold moisture in, and a fern would be HAPPY! Not so fast, I landscaped my terrarium with small plants including a fern in the corner, rocks, oh, and yes it had a chair with a broom leaning against it and tiny boots in front of the chair. A bulldog puppy in the chair completed my little terrarium. I watered it sparingly and for a while … my fern did not die. I thought I conquered my killing streak, but it was only on hiatus. Several times I replaced the dried-up fern, and then I gave up on ferns in the terrarium.


One year while vacationing in Holland to visit family I saw a restaurant with staghorn ferns in every window. I loved the look and thought about getting one. My mom had one, attached to a piece of bark. Each Monday it got a quick soak in the sink, drip dried on the counter and then went back on the wall. Considering my mom was NOT a gardener (a fear of worms made it impossible to put her hands in soil) this plant still graced our home for years and years. If mom could keep this type of fern alive, I should be able to do it too.


I bought the first staghorn fern, which was potted up in soil. Strange I thought, since staghorn ferns are epiphytes, living on tree branches and as a result most plants are usually mounted on bark or wood and hung on the wall. I found myself a nice piece of wood and mounted my staghorn to it with sphagnum moss and fishing wire. Once a week it got a dunk in the sink, and it lived, although begrudgingly. It would get a new leaf, then a leaf would die. It was a never-ending circle of one step forward and one step back until it finally made a leap backwards and all the leaves fell off. But wait, I do not give up that fast, after all I have been doing it for 50+ years. A second staghorn fern came home with me, and I left it in its pot. I thought I saw a glimmer of hope when it started growing new leaves without any others withering. Then last week two leaves fell off and two others look awful. I am still not ready to call it day; I can see a new leaf developing. I keep it on the dining room table where I see it every day. It sits on a tray with pebbles, which I water religiously to increase humidity. I only water the plant when it is dry and keep fingers and toes crossed that this is the year my fern lives, and maybe, thrives?


If this one gives up the ghost, I do not think I can go back into a nursery to pick up another little fern. I am afraid there will be posters at the check-out with my picture on it: Do not sell this woman ANY ferns – she cannot keep them alive! But, still, hope springs eternally, especially when you are a gardener, or at least when you are this gardener!