The shade-loving fern garden provides an air of whimsy, as towering prehistoric ferns provide dappled sunlight on the myriad shaped leaves of begonias. When in bloom, the bell-like flowers of Angel’s Trumpets herald visitors, while Redwoods and Oaks add to an overall feeling of ancient timelessness. First created between 1968 and 1972 and designed by horticulturist Bill Paylen, an addition east of the swimming pool was added in 1987. The pool includes a sandy “beach” sporting giant clam shells, same as the shells that make the fountains of the aloe garden.
As you walk through this garden, look up to the undersides of tree fern fronds, or crouch down to see underneath the shorter ferns. You may spot rows of capsules that provide evidence of the fern’s ancient lineage. Ferns predate the evolution of the seed. What you are seeing are tiny capsules housing even tinier, unicellular spores, a key part of fern reproduction.
Ferns and Fossil Fuels: Among the oldest of plants, ferns predate the arrival of cone-bearing and flowering plants. Ancestors of modern ferns were once the dominant vegetation on earth. As such, the products of their decay make up a large percentage of fossil fuels used today. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are a nonrenewable resource, requiring waiting millions of years for new coal, oil, and natural gas deposits to form. They will eventually run out.
Australian Tree Ferns (Cyathea cooperi): Relatively few species of fern achieve such tree-like proportions as the Australian Tree Fern. It is also called the Lacy Tree Fern after its delicate fronds. The fibrous nature of the trunk is ideal for growing air plants such as orchids, and tree ferns were widely harvested just for this purpose. It is believed many ancient ferns were tree ferns.
Staghorn Fern (Platycerium bifurcatum): This strange species grows clinging to tree trunks and branches, or epiphytically. They get their name because their fronds are forked at the end, resembling deer horns. However, they have a second distinct kind of frond, called a shield frond. These lie close the host tree, often bulging outward over the remains of previous leaves to form a sort of basin, which serves to capture rain water and organic debris falling from above. As you look at the fern on this coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), see if you can make out the two different kinds of fronds.
Begonia ‘Lotusland’: Begonias take many forms, however most can be identified by their asymmetrical leaves, with one side shorter than the other, resembling an elephant’s ear. Begonia ‘Lotusland’ was introduced by a nursery grower in Santa Barbara named Rudy Ziesenhenne. It was a chance seedling in Rudy’s greenhouse without a name until prodded by a National Geographic photographer to give it one. Begonia ‘Lotusland’ has large leaves and dainty pink flowers, Madame Walska’s favorite color.
Notable species: Ferns: 45 genera, 130 taxa; some staghorn ferns over 30 yrs. old, oldest Australian tree ferns around 20-25 yrs. Old . Begonias: over 125 species & cultivars, one named for Lotusland; succulent species is Begonia dregei Begonia X partita or B. natalensis. Palms of note: Hedyscepe canterburyana; Pritchardia species. Other notable plants: Brugmansia = Angel’s Trumpet; Yellow Clivia; Farfugium japonicum; Veltheimia bracteata; Neomarica gracilis; Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. katharinae=blood lily; Ruellia spp; Zantedeschia aethiopica = Calla lily & cv. Green Goddess; Alocasia odora; Deodar cedars; Xanthosoma sp.