About four years ago, Evelyn Edwards, 89, almost lost a living legacy in her family — a 114-year-old Boston fern.
"It was really bad looking," says her son, Wayne, who helps care for the plant.
Frantic with worry, son and mother took the ailing fern to Anderson's Home and Garden Showplace in Newport News where a greenhouse expert immediately spotted the problem. The root-bound fern needed a bigger pot and fertilizer. The family paid the $5 bill and took the repotted fern home, holding their breath and hoping for a good outcome.
"Keeping it in the family is most important," says Evelyn.
The emergency care worked. The fern looks healthier than ever, they say. Sitting outdoors in fall sunshine, the fern's dark-green fronds drape over the edges of the pot, hiding all evidence there's even a container beneath them.
Evelyn's fern is a division taken from the original plant her grandmother, Marietta Good, born 1870, started when she was a young woman. Family photos through the years show potted pieces of the fern on front porches and in front of young women, including Evelyn's mother, Ollie May Kingan, born in 1895. Farming was a way of life for the Good family living on 60 acres in rural Virginia. Amos Good, husband to Marietta, was also a contractor who worked on White House remodeling jobs in the 1940s. As time went on, he built a family house with 13 bedrooms to house his 12 children and Evelyn when she was born in a small town called Tenth Legion in Rockingham County, about 94 miles from Washington, D.C. He also made sure his wife had latticework to grow vines on and planting spaces in the yard.
"The whole family loved plants and kids," says Evelyn. "The house and yard were always filled with flowers of all kinds."
When Marietta died, Evelyn's mother inherited the plant, which by then had produced many offspring given to others. When Evelyn's mother passed away in 1984, the fern ended up in Newport News with Evelyn.
Now that the plant is back in good health, Wayne and his mother give it special attention. During winter, it stays in a cool back bedroom because the plant drops leaves when it gets too hot indoors. While autumn's days are still warm, they sit it outdoors on the patio and bring it indoors at night.
"We don't let it stay outdoors if it's going to be below 45 degrees," says Wayne.
A daily misting and regular feedings of Miracle-Gro help maintain its good looks, the Edwards say. But, lugging the plant inside is getting to be a back-aching job for the two. When Wayne wasn't home one evening recently, Evelyn toted it inside herself, worrying it was getting too cold outdoors.
"Boy, it's heavy," she says.
Although potting the fern into a larger container worked wonders years ago, Wayne knows it needs something more drastic next year — its root ball sliced in half or quarters and each smaller division potted on its own.
"We can't keep potting it like it is," he says. "It's grown six or seven inches this summer and it's getting too big to handle."
News to Use Here are some tips for growing Boston ferns: Common name: Boston fern Botanical name: Nephrolepis exaltata Bostoniensis Description: Long green fronds arch from a crown at the soil surface and weep over sides. Care: Water frequently during growing season; likes moist, not soggy soil. Needs good drain- age. Misting improves the humidity it likes. Can be kept a little on the dry side during winter. Likes 50-65 degree nights and 50-70 degree days. Propagate by root division. Not winter hardy outdoors here. Uses: Display in hanging baskets or planters on porches, etc., during spring, summer and early fall. Problems: Root rot if it sits in water. Spindly growth in poor light, but avoid direct sunlight, especially in afternoon.