A Boston (fern) tea party

April 7, 2019


Everyone pitches in to help when a small-town church hosts a wedding and my grandmother’s contribution was to loan the brides her massive Boston ferns for decorating the simple sanctuary. Usually, the bride’s brothers would show up the day before the wedding to pick up the fluffy plants to carry to the church. The ferns were large and lush enough they had to make sure a bird or small child wasn’t hiding amongst the fronds before the young men lifted them into the bed of their truck. 

Despite being named after the Tea Party city in the North where it was discovered,  the beautiful plant has taken up residence in the South and thrives in our humidity.

Like adding a final swish of lipstick, porches with ferns look pulled together and fully dressed. Grandmother knew the secret to over-wintering her ferns in the garage, and when she’d pull them back out in the spring, they were already shooting out bright green growth. Granddaddy would use an axe to divide them, but sadly, like making jelly, I never learned the secret for growing ferns, so year after year, I have to purchase more. 

Snatching up the prettiest ferns in town is almost a game, and the phone calls and texts start flying between friends the minute a shipment arrives at the feed and seed or farmer’s market. Sometimes the Junior League or Marching band will sell them as an easy-as-pie fundraiser because they know everyone in town will need a few. 

Assuming you still have a real porch and not a pretend puny slab that some home builders think they can trick us into believing is a porch (shame on them), a fern is one of the must-haves. Rocking chairs and swings are always a plus and I’ve written before about how smitten I am with a little lamp by the door that whispers, “Hey! I’ve been waiting for you to get here!” But if your porch has summertime ferns that spill over like fountains, your house will holler, “Hey everybody! Nice people live here!”

In past homes, I’ve had great porches that had space for swings, tables, lazy dogs, jumping children and guitar players. Sadly, my current porch would only get an 85 out of 100 on the S.C.S. (Southern Charm Scale). It’s a tight fit, but we’ve squeezed a few rocking chairs up there, although they are arranged like a jail-house line-up, which actually makes some family members feel quite at home (married into the family, not blood-kin). It gets a few extra-credit points for being close enough to a pasture where we can hear mooing cows and laughter from children on the other side, but no matter what I try to do to make it comfortable, it never feels quite right until I get the ferns out there in the spring. 

Porch ferns pull us away from our indoor blinking gadgets and force us to sweep up their fluff, which in turn, leads us to linger a while, wave to dog-walking neighbors, listen to the birds and sit a spell to drink a glass of icy tea. It’s the plant that inspires us to have our own version of a Boston (fern) tea party. 

This story first appeared on AL.com.

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