Friday, February 3, 2023

The Fernery, Auckland Domain, New Zealand

A variety of ferns inside the Fernery

New Zealand is a land of ferns.  They cover the floors of lush forests and scramble up the trunks of trees.  Or they can be trees themselves growing 30, 40, even 60 feet tall!  There are approximately 200 species of ferns native to the islands and 40% of those are endemic, unique this country.  Ferns are ancient plants, dating back to the Carboniferous Period over 300 million years ago.  That fossil record is the coal we mine for energy today.  Coal is the most used fossil fuel for producing energy in the world.  

A hand sized fiddle head of Cyathea medullaris, the Mamaku, or Black Tree Fern

The Auckland Domain, or Pukekawa, is New Zealand's largest city's oldest and most important park.  It covers about 190 acres of what is the crater of a volcanic explosion, called Pukekaroa.  The Earth's crust is very thin in the Auckland area and there are 7 of these volcanic cones in the city.  A large rather homely Neoclassical building houses the Auckland Museum at the top of the hill.  There is a magnificent collection of Maori art there, a museum of Natural History, and a war gallery.  The park was once the home of the Auckland Botanical Garden and there are many spectacular specimens of trees.

Metrosideros excelsa, Pohutukawa Trees arch gracefully over a path

Down the slope across broad lawns with towering trees is the Wintergarden, two historic Victorian style Glass Houses, one temperate and one tropical.  Linking the glass houses is a sunken formal garden with a rectangular lily pool, framed by handsome pergolas.  These were constructed as part of the Auckland Exhibition in 1913-14.  The designer was William Henry Gummer, who had previously worked with the famed English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and Daniel Burnam of the United States.

The Temperate Glass House and Lily Pool at the Wintergarden

The Tropical Greenhouse is closed for seismic upgrading.  All the the structures have historic designation.

Interior of the Temperate Glass House

Beyond a curved brick wall and pergola is the beguiling opening to the Fernery, a lush trellised grotto filled with green luxuriance that was built on the site of a former scoria rock quarry.  In the 1830's, pteridomania, or Fern Fever swept over Victorian garden society.  From terrariums to grand collections, ferneries were accessible to a broad range of people.  There are 226 species of ferns native to New Zealand and about 40% of those grow nowhere else on Earth.  What better place to create a Fernery.

Gateway to the Fernery

The Fernery was constructed at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929.  The town council couldn't provide the money needed to build it so funding was provided by 20 local business men as an employment relief project.  100 men were hired and completed the project in 5 weeks.  The first 74 ferns were donated from a local collection.  Over the next two years many donations were made by local horticulturalists and a Maori Association keen to educate people in the many ways that ferns were used by Maori society as sources of food and building materials, when the collection listed 80 native species.  During World War II the garden declined from lack of funding and neglect, which continued until the gardens were restored in 1994.

Once you pass through the entrance, it feels like a primeval world of plants with ancient histories.  The garden is steep sided surrounding a deep pit where lava rock was once quarried.  A path rings the upper area with stone steps leading down into the old quarry.  The restored trellis is beautifully patinated with lichens and blends in perfectly to the lush landscape, providing shade to the collection along with native Nikau Palms (Rhopalostylus sapida).

A handsome trellis shades the garden from bright sunlight

The striped trunk of a Nikau Palm amidst the ferns

Varieties of Tree Ferns are the most distinctive in the garden 

Green is the dominant color here.  The delicate texture of so many fronds in different shapes and heights cover the slopes in feathery lushness.  When I was working on Camp Glenorchy on the South Island four and five years ago I spent some time learning how to identify the many types of ferns I saw in the forests there.  I have forgotten many of the botanical names beyond the genuses now.  I love the way various species have adapted to different growing conditions.  

I grow a number of ferns in my garden in Portland, Oregon.  Polystichum munitum is the most common fern in Western Oregon.  Polystichum setiferum, the Alaska Fern looks more like its New Zealand counterpart, Polystichum vestitum.  This is the species I used the most successfully at my project in Camp Glenorchy on the South Island.  They seem to be the toughest and most adaptable fern for the area, as most of the other species, including wonderful red tinged Blechnums didn't survive due to irrigation issues.  
Polystichum vestitum growing along a path to a cabin with mosaic medallions I made in 2017

I don't know the identity of this fern, growing with Corokia cotoneaster, Coprosma, and Lancewoods

There is an extensive list of ferns native to New Zealand on the Wikipedia page on the subject. if you want to do research in to the many genuses and species.

Steps leading down to the bottom of the garden, where a small goldfish pond resides.

Tree ferns are the most dramatic members of the family, developing trunks and sometimes skirts of dead fronds, and expansive umbrella like canopies that create filigrees against the sky when looked at from below.  The tallest can reach 60 feet in height!  Tree ferns don't tolerate the cold winters and wind in Glenorchy so we weren't able to plant any at the camp.  They grow in lush abundance on the coastal side of Mt. Aspiring National Park which encompasses the spectacular mountains you see from town.

The leaves of ferns are called fronds.  They emerge as a tight coiled spiral that unfurls.  Ferns reproduce by producing spores, or sporophytes, rather than flowers.  Some species produce non fertile and fertile fronds.  The genus Blechnum is known for this phenomenon.  The Pacific Northwest native Deer Fern, Blechnum spicant is an example of this, producing upright narrow spore bearing fronds in Spring when moisture is more prevalent.  Spores disperse by wind or on water, and once the egg is fertilized by the sperm, forms a thread or heart shaped stage called a gametophyte.  These are a rarely seen stage in the fern's development.  

New fronds unfurling on a Crown Fern (Blechnum discolor)

From towering giants to tiny ground covers, ferns adapt to a variety of conditions.

Blechnum penna marina is a miniature ground cover fern

King Ferns (Ptsana salacina) is a large fern with starchy roots eaten by Maori people

There are labels if you can find them making it much easier to identify the many species.

Boston Fern is probably the most commonly grown fern for indoor gardens

I am unable to identify many of the ferns in the garden.  I did a lot of research when I was here 4 years ago but I don't have the memory banks for all of the botanical names anymore.  

A lovely colony of ferns on a tree fern trunk


Something between a fern and a moss

Tree ferns with skirts of dead fronds

When I retuned to Glenorchy in January 2023 I worked at the camp for 6 weeks but was able to do a few hikes at the end.   Here are some of the ferns I encountered on my journeys.

A handsome group of Blechnum discolor with another fern growing underneath in the Kowhai Reserve near Kinloch by Lake Wakatipu

Pellaea rotundifolia along the Lake Rere track

Asplenium on the Lake Rere Track

Blechnum penna marina and Polystichum vestitum on the Lake Rere Track

A bog filled with Athyrium?

Needless to say, ferns are fabulous and if you have the right conditions there are so many species you can grow.  Before you know it you may have your own Fernery.

Thanks for reading, Jeffrey