Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell
Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Laura L. Barnes, the late director of the Barnes Arboretum, was keenly interested in hardy ornamental ferns. In the late 1920s and the 1930s she planted almost 100 taxa of American and foreign ferns in the woods in the southeast corner of the Barnes Arboretum; many of these specimens survive to this day. Frank A. Schrepfer, the arboretum’s consulting landscape architect, wrote in 1934 of the Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell: “A small remnant of indigenous woodland serves as the setting for the collection of ninety species and varieties of hardy ferns, arranged in masses and drifts to show to best advantage. This collection has been described by fern authorities as unexcelled in range and in display value.”

Laura Barnes’s interest in ferns was both practical and aesthetic, as she wrote in a 1939 article in the Arboretum Bulletin of the Associates of the Morris Arboretum: “[Ferns] were the all-embracing form of vegetation at one time and formed the base of our coal deposits, fossil remains of which are often found, proving that they have remained true to form [. . .]. Without them the world would lack much beauty.”[1]

In 1975, Edgar T. Wherry, then a teacher at the Barnes Arboretum School and a keen researcher of ferns, built a trail through the woods to make Fern Dell more accessible to visitors. He lined the trail with directional signs and labeled individual ferns to make the fern collection as useful to horticulture students as it was interesting to arboretum visitors.

Between 2007 and 2008, John Scott, a student of Dr. Wherry, began another restoration of the fern collection. Scott, who has his own collection of ferns and conifers, had helped Dr. Wherry with the 1975 Fern Dell restoration. During this most recent restoration, Scott grouped European, Asian, and American ferns based on their geographic origins; European ferns now grow along the main footpath in the southeast corner, Asian ferns are planted around the pond and the teahouse, and the American ferns grow around a bog and stone wall at the northern edge of the woods.

Other ferns—including the male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) and the Japanese painted lady fern (Athyrium niponicum)are grouped in study collections for use by horticulture students, and new plant labels and directional signage help visitors and students navigate the Fern Dell. When this restoration is complete in 2016, the more than 200 taxa of fern in the dell will make it the largest collection of hardy ornamental ferns in the Mid-Atlantic region. As Laura Barnes envisioned, Fern Dell is a valuable teaching resource and visitor attraction that supplements the living fossil collections at the Barnes Arboretum.

 

[1] Laura L. Barnes, “The Cultivation of Hardy Ferns,” Arboretum Bulletin of the Associates of the Morris Arboretum 16 (1939): 97–100.

The Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Launch Slideshow

Fern wall at the Barnes Arboretum, 2015

Arachniodes standishii, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Dryopteris erythrosora, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Thelypteris novaboracensis, Larua L. Barnes Fern Dell

Fern mass, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Arachniodes standishii, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Athyrium otophorum, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Adiantum capillus-veneris, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Polystichum neolobatum, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Polystichum makinoi, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Adiantum venustum, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Cyrtomium falcatum Rochfordianum, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell

Dryopteris atrata, Laura L. Barnes Fern Dell