Hiding in the shadows where would we be without them? For they are mostly responsible for our fossil fuels. Dominating the plant kingdom 350 million years ago, their decay on the forest floor piled up many miles thick and super compressed over millions of years storing their captured carbon which now wreaks havoc on our climate.pollution-87683_1920

Ferns are widespread throughout many habitats, from tropical rainforest to arctic alpine situations, desert scrub lands to coastal niches, they like a shady moist spot, and are prized for their architectural foliage adding an exotic jungle feel to any garden.palm-fern-1367904_1920

They also vary in size, from tiny 1-2mm plants to giant tree ferns over 30 metres in height, there are over 9000 species, most are found in the tropics. Some are edible appetite-1239161_1920

And many have medicinal properties, their generic names reflecting the area of the body they acted on i.e. Asplenium the spleen, Maidenhair for baldness. Therapeutic properties range from antiworming-vermifuge, antiarthritic, cough remedies and topically such as an ointment made from the fronds of Harts tongue fern for burns and scalds, always consult a medical herbalist to try any of these.fern-195876

Ash derived from burning bracken is a very rich source of potash, although avoid inhaling the spores by using a fire bin to first dry the green fronds which are the richest source and avoiding introducing it into your garden. This abundant resource could be commercially harvested and processed, thereby controlling this rampant weed.

water-1697311_1920I think no garden should be without one of our 45 native species, creating a great backdrop for herbaceous plants such as Solomon’s seal or bleeding hearts. bleeding-hearts-1391321_1920

Gingko Biloba Tree-A Living Fossil!

Gingko Biloba first appeared over 270 Million years ago during the Permiam period so was well established during the dinosaurs Jurassic period, 60 million years later. This beautiful and early example of tree life on earth is truly an astonishing survivor of evolution. This maybe partly due to it’s longevity, there are living examples over 2500 years old in China today.

It wouldn’t surprise me if we find them growing on other planets in the universe, with algal mats 2.3 Billion years old, club mosses and liverworts 450 million years old and ferns 360 million years old. If there are Aliens out there they are most likely to be these!

There was remarkably a Gingko here in our Woodland till about 11 years ago, when it sadly died, we still have a cross section of the trunk and it was over 100 years old.

Gingko evolved during a time when there was only ferns, mosses, algae and Cycads around, long before pine cones or flowers came along for cross fertilization.


Sago palm a Cycad










Tree fern

The male sporophylls in the pollen cones travel on the wind to the large fruit like seed fallen from the female tree, which has a tiny opening that captures the pollen, it then produces the motile spermatozoid which swim toward the female cell inside and fertilize it. Truly remarkable and prehistoric!

The Gingko can grow up to 50m in height, and likes a sunny position in a rich moisture retentive but well drained soil. Our young Gingko is growing happily in the woodland glade. It is easily grown from seed or branches with aerial roots. It is free of pests and diseases, they probably all died out millions of years ago! The beautiful maidenhair like leaves turn a bright yellow in Autumn and light up the wood.

The health benefits are spurious, apart from some studies showing improvement in memory and concentration in older people, maybe secondary to its circulation and blood thinning properties, and should be avoided in people with bleeding tendencies or taking Aspirin. For similar reasons, also not mixed with ginger, ginseng or garlic. Some people are allergic to gingko and can get skin rashes from the seed outer skin and leaves of the plant.

The shelled ‘nuts’ are highly prized and used in many recipes in china eg.  Buddha’s delight. A delicious vegetarian stir fry dish served on special holidays such as the Lunar New Year, tofu, shitake mushroom, gingko nut, lotus root, wood ear mushroom, water chestnut, black moss, braised gluten and thread noodles are some of the chief ingredients.