Saving Fern: from contributor Jan Peccarrari

Photo of Fern: the fronds are green and growing, and Fern is back on display.
Photo of Fern: the fronds are green and growing, and Fern is back on display.

Do you wonder if blindness will prevent  you from being a good gardener?

Jan is the go-to expert for indoor and porch gardening at the Carroll Center


One morning a coworker came to me, “Jan, I need your help.” I turned from my computer, expecting something needed to be filed or electronically retrieved.

“I was given a fern for my office and it is not doing well. It needs tender loving care.”

Now, I am not very knowledgeable in the art of keeping ferns but knew enough to become interested in saving this plant. I asked the normal questions:

“Does it get direct sun?” “No.”

“Ferns like to remain moist and they like to be sprayed,” I said.

“I have been spraying it every other day.”

I said, “Well, let us move it to the corner by the board room. It is brightly lit but there is no direct sun. We can swap it out for the peace Lilly that I had recently repotted and set there in a wicker basket.


My coworker took the peace Lilly to her office and sat Fern (as I had begun to think of him by now) on the wooden bench which is bookended between two reedy plants that I also tend to; in addition to two lush pothos and a Madagascar dragon tree.


I had to ask a coworker to assist me in identifying the tree which she did by taking a picture of it with her mobile device and then matching it against pictures of plants on the internet. Is not technology great? The Madagascar dragon tree is really quite unique. It has very thin trunks which can be gently bent or twisted and this one had three trunks which spiral around each other. The top of the tree has growth that when touched, at least to me, feels like a cheer leader’s pompoms . It is quite beautiful.

But when learning the tree was indigenous to Madagascar, it came as no surprise that I had never heard of such a tree for I had never been out of the country except for summer vacations in Canada. The tree is so named for when the sap runs, it is said to be the color of dragon blood. I would sure like to meet the individual who has actually seen dragon blood. But I digress.


So when I went to set Fern into place, I noticed that he was very, very dry and had many dead pieces clinging to his almost lifeless frons. This was evident not only in the rustling sound his frons made but also the brittle pieces falling from him. I went to my desk; grabbed a pair of scissors and asked another coworker to look out to see if it was raining. It had stormed earlier and while I hoped to allow Fern to be naturally watered, I also wanted to take him outside for some trimming, but not in a torrential downpour. She said it was not raining at that moment so I lifted Fern again and announced that he and I were headed outdoors.


I took him to an isolated spot and began removing the dead stuff from him. I cut away many bare fronds and despite the fact that ferns in general do not care to be touched much, gently ran my fingers from base to frond tip and stripped the dead pieces (or most of them) from him. After that I picked him up and gave Fern a good shaking to loosen any dead hangers on. I later learned that a member of our maintenance crew had to vacuum in the path I took from Ferns new location to the exit for a trail of dead pieces of Fern; like bread crumbs; were left behind.


It occurred to me that not only was Fern badly in need of a very good watering; he was also greatly in need of a bigger pot. Fern is root poor but that, we can fix.


As of this writing, Fern is in his new corner of our facility but only for the moment. It is my intention to find a box in which to carry poor little Fern home; repot and water him and then set him in a corner where he can acclimate to his new temporary home and grow strong and beautiful; God willing.


Fern has recovered (check the photo and caption at the start of the post ,) and definitely acclimatized   to his new home – thanks to Doctor Jan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *