Book Review: The Plant Lovers Guide to Ferns by Richie Steffen and Sue Olsen

The Plant Lovers Guide to Ferns by Richie Steffen and Sue Olsen

I live in the Pacific Northwest and it feels like ferns are everywhere sometimes.  They grow in the concrete barriers along the freeways, they are in my yard even though I know I didn’t plant them… and my church for palm sunday doesn’t decorate using palm branch we use fern fronds!  That’s just how we roll in the Pacific Northwest… we go with what we got.  And we got a lot of fern fronds.
I had seen this new book advertised for quite a while but just bought it when I saw Richie Steffen lecture recently.  I was able to read it in a short sitting because much of the book is more encyclopedic.  The middle half of the book is a grouping of 140 ferns for the garden and is beautifully photographed.  It will be a great resource for buying ferns in the future.
Osmunda regalis ROYAL FERN Photo by Sue Olsen courtesy of Great Plant Picks
Dryopteris lepidopoda SUNSET FERN Photo by Richie Steffen, courtesy of Great Plant Picks

The first quarter of the book is the inspiration and design portion.  The last quarter is the propagation and growing portion.  First off, I want to say that the book started with a comment I really appreciated.  They acknowledged that “The superficial similarity in textures and forms of ferns can lead to a monotony that does not reflect the true value of these plants as ornamentals.”  Which is historically my problem with ferns… its hard for me to see a huge variety.  That being said I also acknowledge that once I read the book I could see a much larger variety and that its not a fair conclusion to say ferns all look the same.  The authors did a wonderful job of showing us the differences in ferns specifically by showing 2 pages of various leaf forms and 4 pages of plant forms.  Just looking at these 6 pages makes it clear there is a hug variety in ferns.

The section on design was particularly insightful and I admit that every paragraph gave me a new idea on how to use ferns in a practical way in my own garden and inspiration for companion planting combinations.  I liked the

Polystichum polyblepharum JAPANESE TASSEL FERN Photo by Richie Steffen, courtesy of Great Plant Picks

idea of using a fern as a specimen plant.  But
they explained that its not just any fern that can carry the weight of being a specimen plant and the authors described the need for a specimen ferns to have a tight and compact crown, a well-defined and

familiar outline and if possible an unusual or interesting growth to catch the eye.  They discussed using ferns in mass plantings, in the formal and woodland gardens, ferns in the rock gardens and on tables, as well as the variety of colors and textures to ferns.


Athyrium niponicum var. pictum JAPANESE PAINTED FERN Photo by Richie Steffen courtesy of Great Plant Picks

I was a little disappointed in the section on propagation as it was only 2 pages long.  I expect that fern propagation is not very easy and there are other books out there that go into detail.  The book itself was beautiful.  I got the hardback as I always try to do, and it feels very nice in the hands.  The photography is spectacular and the organization is well done.  This is one of those books that’s written like a gardening friend is spilling their guts on the one thing about gardening they love the most.  It feels as though you are receiving tips and ideas in every paragraph that are coming from someone who really knows and loves what they are speaking about.  Those are the most exciting and useful books to have and I am adding The Plant Lovers Guide to Ferns to that group in my collection.

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