Monday, November 29, 2021

The Renaissance Garden at Heronswood

Today brings the final of my three posts on Heronswood Garden, which I visited in September (Part One, Part Two). In this post we'll explore the Renaissance Garden. We begin at the path that takes us there...

I miss my Grevillea victoriae, such a good plant and always in bloom.

So, you might be asking, "what exactly is the Renaissance Garden? The short answer is that it's a 1-acre stumpery.

Here's a longer description I lifted from the Hardy Fern Foundation Fall Quarterly, written by Patrick McMillan, Director at Heronswood: "Dedicated to showcasing ferns from around the world, the Renaissance Garden includes hardy ferns from five continents, nestled within an array of massive stumps, with a supporting cast of woodland plants such as hydrangeas, trilliums and hardy gingers. The Renaissance Garden collection includes 32 fern genera in 15 families, a total of 145 different species and cultivars."

"The Renaissance Garden pays tribute to the resilience and vibrancy of life and features a massive display of old growth stumps within a second growth forest. The logging industry is an intrinsic part of the history of Kitsap County and the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe [owners of Heronswood]. Tribal members provided much of the workforce for the nearby Port Gamble Mill and would canoe across Port Gamble Bay every day to go to work at the mill or in the timber camps. The Renaissance Garden is filled with period appropriate artifacts that take the visitor into an abandoned logging camp that has been reclaimed with the lush vibrancy of life."

Here's one of those supporting cast members, a begonia with deeply cut leaves.

An adiantum of some sort, with a bit of stump art...

This section of the garden features so many plants that I love, it was easy be impressed with the plantings.

What I found not so impressive was the oversized fern table.

There were some sweet little gems tucked in, like this Pleopeltis lepidopteris 'Morro dos Conventos' (Brazilian Hairy Sword Fern)...

And I'm always happy to see bright green selaginella.

Ditto for asarum and Asplenium trichomanes.

But all in all I thought this eye-level plants could have been ones that were a little more "special." Then again maybe I'm just not smart enough to know I was looking at rare plants?

Of course the tree ferns had me practically drooling, there were so many of them and they all looked so happy and healthy.

Here's a little more criticism; I thought the "period appropriate artifacts that take the visitor into an abandoned logging camp that has been reclaimed" fell flat and seemed contrived. Take this piano for instance. If it really is there to represent something abandoned, then why does it have a specially fitted planter box on top? The plants should be coming out of the piano itself...

I was so bothered by the piano that I wasn't going to take a photo. Then when I decided I should, I didn't pause long enough for the camera to focus, thus you get blur, sorry about that.

Moving on to beautiful plants, Cyrtomium falcatum I believe. thanks to a reader named Marc I think this is actually Cyrtomium fortunei...

If this shiny fern had a name tag I didn't see it. Referring back to the Fern Foundation Quarterly I think it may be an unnamed Arachnoides SP.

It looks like an explosion in the "logging camp" blew a rusty bit of metal up on to the top of a stump. Good thing it didn't hurt the tree fern.

The astelia make a great addition to the ferns and the stumps.

Why is that old rusty loaf pan just sitting on the stump? Wouldn't it be more interesting with moss and a tiny fern growing out of it?

More pretty ferns I can't identify...

Look at all the begonias they worked in there!

Dan Hinkley, Director Emeritus at Heronswood, has been bringing back interesting (and potentially hardy here in the PNW) begonias from his plant hunting travels, I hope these will make their way into our nurseries in the not too distant future. 

Okay this "artifact" is practically begging to be planted, just look at it!

Paris polyphylla var. stenophylla x  luquanensis

Surely they meant to mount something on that metal ring? I'm curious, are you agreeing with me on this criticism? Or do you think I'm completely off base?

I am not sure if the tree ferns are all Dicksonia antarctica...

Or perhaps there are a few Cyathea cooperi mixed in?

It was fun to spot a few big leaves and blooms mixed in with the ferns and fine leaves.

This stump is a work of art on its own, no oddly placed artifact required.

Finally... there were pyrrosia! You know I was looking. This one Pyrrosia lingua 'Hiryu'...

Pyrrosia lingua 'Tachiba Koryu'

Although it also looks a lot like the Pyrrosia lingua 'Dragon's Tail' I picked up back in 2020. Plant names can be such a moving target.

Here's the whole pyrrosia gang, with P. lingua 'Cristata' in the foreground.

Finally one more I'm lusting after, I believe this is Adiantum aleuticum 'Subpumilum'... "A truly dwarf maidenhair, and a very slowly spreading groundcover.  Shiny, glossy black stalks hold aloft contrasting, limey-green pinnae.  Rarely available, it takes good drainage and light shade and rich soils." (source)

I really enjoyed this addition to the gardens at Heronswood, the ferns are gorgeous and the abundance of plantings was a real treat for the eyes. I just wish that the artifacts were better integrated into the garden. While I understand what they're trying to do, I fell like as-is these objects stand apart from—and distract from—the plants, when they could actually be in an alliance with them. Both working to contribute to the garden as an experience. 

All material © 2009-2021 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. I liked this stumpery more than most I've seen. I can't agree with you about the fern table. While its naked legs bothered me a little, I loved it overall but then every fern, so rare here, strikes me as a minor miracle.

    1. You point out something I decided not to mention... those legs!

  2. I was drooling at the variety of ferns, including lots I can't grow. What beauties. I think you were more bothered by the odd metal bits etc. because you plant yours. But they were mostly OK for me. That said, I still am not that crazy about them because I think they are there as props for non-gardeners who will be bored with all that green. I don't like all the big light shows etc. at botanic gardens these days. I understand it's fundraising and getting new folks into the garden. But generally they are not people interested in the gardens themselves .

    1. When I was at the Los Angeles Arboretum a couple of weeks ago, they were closing the garden early and getting everyone out so they could re-ticket for entry to their light show. I mostly ignored the cords and equipment throughout the garden as it didn't detract too much from the plants, but happened on one area that did make me laugh. It would have been fun to see at night, but I didn't go back.

  3. I agree with you on most points, and I'm not writing this to curry favor. I'm one who normally loves added (especially quirky or industrial) art in a garden, but it's as if the person who put these items in doesn't have an eye for it. I thought the fern table was okay, but could be a little fuller along its edges with more plants draping over the sides. Just one opinion, and I'm certainly not an expert on garden art. Also, it's too easy to be a critic. I know gardens aren't static so perhaps it will be changed in the future.

    1. So true (gardens aren't static) and perhaps their will be a few more artifacts added, which surprisingly I think would actually make it better... less random.

  4. I'm usually so elated when visiting a stumpery, nothing bothers me. Here too, I have no complaints. Someone who loves to plant up rusty object may see a wasted opportunity and a presentation that is not as harmonious as it could be. I also liked the elevated fern table; often ferns are so close to the ground its nice to have them elevated, for an up-close and personal examination. I definitely need to add selaginella to my shady areas, and wish Mr. Hinkley would hurry up with his hardy begonia cultivation: that one with deeply cut leaves is super cool.

    1. Thanks for weighing in on this and you are probably right, that I'm naturally inclined to want to plant these things, while others may not see the missed opportunity.

  5. A beautiful collection of ferns, I must say. I agree with the above commenter that the placement was done by someone who didn't have an eye for it, and the artifacts could have been integrated into the overall design better. A few plantings inside them would have been fun in a man vs. nature kind of way (Nature always wins in the end, of course).

  6. I like the idea of a Renaissance garden and I really liked the fern table as it is easier to see the plants when they are up close. Not a huge fan of the rusted implements. Anytime I see stuff like this it just reminds me how people continually discard their junk anywhere to rot.


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