Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Japanese Painted Fern - Like Michinoku Cloth

Michinoku no
Shinobu moji-zuri
  Tare yue ni
Midare-some nishi
Ware naranaku ni.

AH! why does love distract my thoughts,
  Disordering my will!
I'm like the pattern on the cloth
  Of Michinoku hill,—
  All in confusion still.

-Kawara no Sadaijin (822 - 895)

Shinobu mojizuri is an ancient dyeing process, probably originating from Michinoku region in Japan, in which plants are pressed and rubbed into silk cloth creating an intricate pattern. The poet's simile expresses well the indelible, painful impression that love makes on the heart.

It occurs to me that the intricate pattern and shades of Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) must resemble a Michinoku print. Emerging fronds are metallic gray with reddish to bluish blush. Mature fronds hold their color well and contrast nicely with the emerging ones. This fern forms very attractive clumps from 12 inches to 18 inches in height, and as wide.

For its beauty and adaptability, the fern was named Perennial Plant of the Year winner for 2004 by the Perennial Plant Association. Many gardeners find it irresistable.

Japanese Painted Fern goes dormant in winter, nevertheless it is reliably cold hardy in USDA climate zones 4 to 9. It performs best in partial shade to full shade, however, coloration is best in light shade. Some gardeners report success planting in full sun, but growers in hot climates should definitely provide adequate shade. Slightly moist soil is essential, though care must be taken to avoid over-watering. Japanese Painted Fern doesn't like soggy soil. Recommended pH is 6.1 to 7.5.

You'll be pleased to know that Japanese Painted Fern has no serious insect or disease problems, and it's deer resistant.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Small plants may be planted closer together. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the ferns into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Shade gardeners will love Japanese Painted Ferns. Of course, they should be included in Japanese gardens and in fern collections. Their beauty is irresistible.

Here is another English translation of Kawara no Sadaijin's poem, number 14 of A Hundred Verses from Old Japan (The Hyakunin-isshu), tr. by William N. Porter, [1909].

Like the printed leaves of ferns
On Michinoku cloth,
Who has imposed on me
This affliction, but you.
But I can’t resist it.
-Kawara no Sadaijin (822 - 895)

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