On the Land: Wood ferns take cover

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By: 
j2wright

The winter-time tent in the Woodland Garden…  everyone wants to know what is going on down there! 

Well, this is a temporary shelter for our living solar array experiment. Yes, you read that right: Royal Roads University has a … no, sorry, can’t joke about that stuff! 

What is really happening in our very own miniature Area 51 is the winter-time protection of our beloved tree fern, a thriving example of Dicksonia antarctica (which can look a little like a small green array straight out of a James Bond movie…).

This species is native to New Zealand and Tasmania, and isn’t quite hardy enough to handle the occasional mercury dip into the several degrees below zero that we get here in the winter, let alone when we get the arctic blasts that make it -10C or worse.  We are more protective of this tree fern now, after we lost two younger ones in that same garden when we suffered a weird bout of fluctuating temperatures, between +12C and -8C, one March a few years ago. Hence the bigger tent and added protection now, which allows for the all-important air flow as well as insulation, while keeping rain off the crown, which can sink into the new buds that are waiting for the new year, and freeze it to death. 

One neat thing to note about the fern this year is that with the wonderful, long, warm and sunny summer we had, the Dicksonia put on more new fronds through the season than it has in years gone by.  It was a pretty special thing to see it unfurling yet another new frond through the summer, right till September.  (The technical term for the fiddlehead is “crozier”, in case a mind was inquiring.)

So, we hope you will tell all your friends, when they ask what’s going on, that it’s just the gardeners communicating with aliens, and not a pretty special fern, otherwise everyone will want to come down and see it.  (By the way, it starts to unfurl the new croziers in the spring, usually about the end of March and early April.)