It’s certainly been a year for new books by Seattle
authors. We wrap up the list with Sue Olsen’s wonderful new Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns,
gem among gems.
I don’t know a lot about ferns. I know that they’re mostly
shade lovers, something I have precious little of on my south-facing patio. I
know that if you hit the farmer’s markets on the coast of Maine at just the
right time in the spring, you can buy fiddleheads that are yummy when sautéed
in a little garlic, butter and a splash of white wine.
I know that besides Sue Olsen,—Richie
Duryea, and the other members of the Hardy Fern Foundation—really know their
stuff and can direct you to all kinds of fascinating ferns at their annual fern
sale. (I also know that most of the Miller Library staff will disappear
periodically throughout the Friday of the sale, and you can find them browsing
and buying their way through fern heaven over in NHS Hall!)
So basically, I opened up my copy of
the Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns
being able to recognize a maidenhair and a hart’s tongue fern specifically, and
I know a fern in general when I see it, but that’s about it.
Holy cow! Olsen includes more
than 960 ferns in her book,
the most comprehensive reference work on ferns since Hoshizaki’s and Moran’s The Fern Grower’s Manual
by Timber Press, revised edition published in 2001).
As an amateur, however, when comparing the
side by side, I clearly prefer Olsen’s to the earlier publication. Why? Well,
first of all, the 700 photographs, all taken by the author (with a few
exceptions, such as the photo of Sue herself standing underneath a Marattia in New Zealand,
photographed by Harry Olsen). Can I go on about the photography for just a
moment? The detail the author has captured in her photographs is exceptional,
and her artistry is stunning. See how she has captured the sunlight on the
photograph of an Osmunda regalis
(page 24), and you’ll see what I mean.
In her preface, Olsen
states her goals for this volume are “to present the ferns by illustration,
information, and example so that they bring to you what I have sought for
myself in doing research over the past forty years, and that is explicit help
on identification along with cultivation guidelines, enriched where possible
with anecdotal insights.”
Paging through the Encyclopedia
of Garden Ferns, it’s obvious that Olsen has attained her goals.
This well-organized book includes comprehensive chapters on cultivating and
propagating ferns, along with a brief chapter on fern structure and basic
diagnostics. Clear line drawings by Richie Steffen illustrate the life cycle of
ferns and fern parts and frond divisions.
The balance of the book
encompasses the “encyclopedia” part of the title. Nearly 1,000 ferns, arranged
alphabetically by genus, are included here. Olsen first provides information
about each genus, including its history and etymology. She then lists species
within the genus, including descriptions, range and habitat, culture, and (my
favorite part) comments.
With more than forty years experience studying,
propagating, and writing about ferns, Olsen has a wealth of personal experience
that she willingly shares with the reader. It is just this combination of
factual research blended with personal anecdotes and observations that makes
this such a valuable book for anyone interested in growing ferns.
Another stroke of genius is Appendix
4: Favorite Ferns for Sites Around the World. Arranged by USDA
zones, Olsen appealed to fern experts across North America, as well as
Australia, Germany, and England, for their top twenty favorite ferns. Olsen’s
own personal favorites are included in Zone 8 (not to mention scattered
throughout the book).
If you’re a fern expert, this is an essential purchase for
your home library. If you’re a fern enthusiast who wants to learn more, this is
the book for you, too. The information included in the Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns is both concise and
comprehensive, and extremely readable. And can I just say, I had NO IDEA that
equisetums are true ferns! Amazing.