As I remember, the fern glen wasn’t planned. Ed Miller was a great planner and did a fine job laying out the Native Plant Trail. Then a Spur Trail was added, going through the wetland and up the hill, including a bridge over a small stream. In later years Ed and I were hiking on the Driscoll Preserve when we came upon a musical bridge. I could see the wheels spinning as Ed, always the planner, took measurements. And voilà, there was a musical bridge on the Spur Trail! Ed, true to form, had to improve on the Dan Driscoll design by adding flats and sharps, perhaps the first musical bridge with black keys.
I don’t know the date or the circumstances, but early on Ed was given two rare male ferns. He planted them on the hill of the Spur Trail and then they were forgotten. One day as we were walking up the trail, we looked over and saw a little stone wall with a few resident ferns. We decided that it would make an intriguing little grotto to add interest to the trail. The next time I came, it was with a load of ferns for the area near the pond’s outlet. Very nice! But I guess we didn’t mention it to anyone else.
I believe it was planted in the fall, and we didn’t visit until later the following spring. To our great dismay and disappointment, some work had been done on the pond and, in addition to felling a huge tree,t he construction debris had all been bulldozed over the bank onto our little grotto. So be it, we thought. For the next few years Ed concentrated on the main collection of native trees and shrubs.
One day, about 2014, as we were walking up the Spur Trail, the sun shone behind the large ferns. We couldn’t help but be impressed. The Fern Glen was born at that moment. I started bringing ferns from my farm in Massachusetts, and Nick Zabawsky gave us many from his property. Ed started out with a mattock to plant the first ones: the clay soil is hard and rocky. Later my two sons, Rick and Rob, came with loads of ferns and planted them over the hillside. Ed found a rare walking fern and planted it on a rock and fed it lime, though it was not always happy. Fortunately, Nick Miller has now provided a replacement.
We aimed to create a Fern Glen, with at least one of each fern native to the area, all marked using signs obtained from a grant. The Glen now has a base of thirty varieties, some thriving — and some not. They don’t all like the same kind of soil, but we tried to compensate with an application of lime where needed. Since the area includes different habitats (the hillside is dry, and the base is wet), the ferns are arranged accordingly.
Nick Miller, who inherited the curatorship of the Native Plant Collection, has done a lot of work creating rock steps on the hillside and cutting brush. Brother Nelson has done backhoe work to divert the pond overflow away from the hillside that was inundated after a heavy rainstorm. Nick is working on solving the problem of the muddy trail at the bottom using tree rounds for steps. It looks great and is very appropriate for the site.
I hope to bring a few more ferns to have a good specimen of each of the thirty varieties. As with any other garden, the collection needs weeding, mowing, and clean-up. Anne Donnelly has joined me in the up-keep, especially in spring and fall. As I retire from everything except enthusiasm, I will continue to maintain this peaceful place. Please contact the Arboretum if you would like to join me in preserving this graceful glen. After all, ferns can be part of your plan too!