On 15th March 1879, William Robinson shook up the gardening press by launching a new weekly paper, priced at 1 penny and aimed fairly and squarely at the amateur gardener. He called the paper “Gardening Illustrated” and seven months later he was boasting: “Our weekly issue is now larger than that of the whole of the horticultural press of the United Kingdom combined”. Of course, in the days before circulation figures were published, there was no evidence for this assertion and it was hotly contested by his rivals.
Gardening Illustrated was launched during the craze for subtropical gardening, which Robinson himself had done so much to promote with his book, “The Subtropical Garden.” But the public were beginning to realise that exotic plants don’t always survive in our climate and one of the early articles dealt with the problem of what to do with the trunks of dead tree ferns. Nowadays most people would throw them away but the Victorians had more imaginative ideas. Robinson recommended using the trunks to display ferns, with a large fern such as a Nephrolepsis or a Lomaria gibba (now known as a Blechnum gibbum) placed in a hole scooped out of the top, with smaller ferns stuck into the trunk along the side.
This is a problem very close to my heart, and I suspect, thousands of others, after last winter. The photo above shows my tree ferns looking splendid after the first snowfall of winter, but the prolonged cold finished them off, so I was left with 6 lifeless stems. My solution, suggested to me by Mike Tullis of Inglefield Plants (himself the latest in a long line of Victorians), was to decorate the stem with Fascicularia bicolor. I think it looks good. All I need to do now is scoop out the top and insert a large fern for that William Robinson look.