THE FERN PARADISE.* Two Londoners, Mr. Ward, of Wellclose Square,
and Mr. R. Warington, of Apothecaries' Hall, have laid nature-lovers under deep obligation by the invention of the fern-case and the aquarium. By the former contrivance, we are enabled to import from the more favoured regions of the globe hundreds of differ- ent majestic and exquisite ferns, and to make them the com- panions of our daily life. And on the other hand, by means of
the aquarium, the strange glories of remote oceans or profound depths, or the beauties and marvels long unheeded of our common shores and streams, are brought into public and easy view.
In his little book on the growth of plants in closely-glazed cases, Mr. Ward strongly urged the claims of ferns upon our care and our admiration. His efforts to introduce the cultiva- tion of these delightful plants were not limited to the rich, for he was particularly successful in proving that the homeliest and cheapest contrivances would answer his purpose as well as the most costly and ornate. To his poorer patients he would give some little seedling fern, and a pinch of suitable soil. With a plate or saucer, a bit of brick, and a cracked tumbler he would then construct a tiny fern-house, where the charming inmate would soon make itself quite at home.
Thanks to the labours of Edward Newman, Sir W. J. Hooker, and several other botanical writers, the British ferns have been fully described and illustrated. The impetus given to their cultiva- tion by Mr. Ward's invention, and by the beautifully illustrated books about them published during the last twenty years, has
never become extinct. New varieties are constantly described ; large nurseries are specially devoted to the cultivation of these plants ; few large gardens are without a fernery. Mr. Heath, the author of the Fern World and the Fern Paradise, has lately taken up the subject. It may be true that his acquaintance with the botanical side of the subject is not on a par with his enthusiasm. His ardent admiration, however, for the ferns of Great Britain, and for the scenery which they enrich and adorn, cannot be questioned, while his anxiety to extend the knowledge and love of ferns to all classes of the community merits warm commendation. But we think that in his enthusiasm he makes light of the difficulties which beset the growing of these plants in London and large towns. It is not a mere question of soil and aspect and assiduous care. Except under glass, the great majority of native ferns will not live in London. After a miserable and possibly somewhat prolonged struggle for existence, the graceful coronal of green is reduced to a wisp of sooty hay. The dust and dryness of city air are not the only evils the delicate organism has to fight. There are the poisonous acids of the impure atmo- sphere, the sulphurous, the hydrosulphuric, the hydrochloric, and the sulphuric. That the first of these acids occasionally abounds in London air we happened one day to receive convincing proof, as large drops of a summer shower bleached white spots on the flowers of the major convolvulus on which they fell, in a West- End garden. Yet a few of the coarser ferns, such as the Shield fern and the Male fern, will undoubtedly grow in crowded cities, and may be used with a measure of success to fill shady and waste corners, and to brighten dull windows. But for the more refined and beautiful of native ferns to flourish in London the protection of glass is demanded. And even then there are some kinds which defy all our care, either perishing completely, or maintaining at the best a sickly or unnatural growth.
The present edition of the Fern Paradise differs from the
preceding issues not only in the introduction of a variety of illus- trations, but also in textual alterations and additions, which may generally be regarded as improvements. One of these calls for remark, the chapter on "The Influence of Plants in Rooms." Here we find a generally correct description of the purifying
• The Perla
Low. 1S78. Paradise. By G.F. Heath. Illustrated Edition. London: Sampson influence of the green parts of plants upon the air: how they inhale carbonic acid gas and exhale oxygen. But we also find here some observations which are by no means indisputable. A hot, vapour-laden, moist air is not more, but less supportable (p. 225) than a comparatively dry one of the same temperature. Again, the notion that fanning the body sensibly increases the heat of the air, by adding to it the heat removed from the akin, ignores the absorption of heat in the production of vapour. In fact, these and other grounds on which we are urged to use growing ferns as a means of keeping our rooms cool in summer cannot be accepted. Nor does their purifying influence as oxygen- makers afford a very strong argument for their introduction into the dwelling-house, since the carbonic acid evolved from the vegetable soil in which they delight to grow must be set against the oxygen which they liberate. But we entirely sympathise with another argument in the same direction which Mr. Heath adduces, for the sight of ferns about us brings up pleasurable associations, and is refreshing to mind and eye alike.
Mr. Heath's limited acquaintance with botanical science is not likely to detract from the general estimation in which the Fern Paradise is held. But the author claims for his pages that they are "free from the uninteresting technicalities which have suc- ceeded, in most books on ferns, in making the study of these beautiful plants a hard task, instead of a delightful occupation." Yet Mr. Heath should remember that the works on ferns which he thus in a measure condemns have furnished him with most of his facts, and that he has adopted the classification and termi- nology of science. We hope that in a future edition the author will either amend his usage of technical terms, or discard them. We should prefer in descriptive passages of scenery and of wood- land beauty to see the English or rural names of ferns generally employed. But if scientific designations are preferred, they should be given with accuracy,—Polystichum aculeatum, for example, should not be spoken of familiarly as Aculeatum, nor Asplenium fontanum as Fontanum. It cannot be seriously argued that inexact expression aids the poetic description of nature.
The illustrations to the present edition of the Fern Paradise include a few photographs, eight woodcuts from charming draw- ings of sylvan scenery by Birket Foster, eight plates of the differ- ent species of British ferns, and several figures showing arrange- ments for the cultivation of these plants. The photographs are not very characteristic, but the landscapes of Birket Foster are beautiful and appropriate. We shall have something more to say about the plates of ferns presently, but we may at once record our opinion of the designs for fern baskets, fern vases, and fern cases which Mr. Heath exhibits in his chapters on "A Fern Paradise at Home," on " Fern Windows," and on "Ferns and Aquaria." For most of these designs we confess we do not care. They are not sufficiently plain and simple. Nothing in the mounting of the case should interfere with the fern itself ; an affectation of rusti- city is particularly to be deprecated. On the other hand, the effect of a fern is spoilt when its surroundings are in obtrusively bad taste, as in the rococo fireplace given on page 157.
The eight full-page plates in black and white of fern groups are in the main excellent, those on pages 253 and 375 may be cited as very favourable examples. The smaller ferns are less adequately rendered. For instance, we have a very meagre allowance of a couple of singularly poor fronds of the two filmy ferns on page 439. On the middle of a surface of thirty-five square inches of printer's ink we have two minute white scrawls, by which no notion can be given of the peculiarly beautiful form and mode of growth of the plants figured. Mr. Heath will increase the real value of a book which has already interested many readers, and is sure to interest many more, if he will devote a little attention to the special improvements suggested in our present notice.