Fronds reunited; Ferns are as beautiful as any flower and can add a spark of life to a gloomy corner of the garden.
Neil and I first travelled to north Devon 35 years ago. I had a job interview at a South Molton school and the last leg of the journey was on a bus. I spent the entire time gazing at the Devon hedges, replete with thousands of ferns.
The damp climate and widespread shady woods and hedgerows provide the ideal conditions for them.
During Victorian times, fern trains - wagons packed with plants stripped from the north-facing slopes and hedgerows - regularly left north Devon for London to satisfy the fern craze that swept the capital. They suited the era's dark gardens and conservatories. EVERGREEN The high Devon banks positively drip with polypody - one of the most enduring and most useful evergreens. It spreads slowly out, establishing large colonies. Sitting on a bank, its roots bind soil together and create pockets where moss and primroses can make a home. Fronds - the leaves of the ferns - about 30cm long are deeply cut and are a bright, fresh green.
Even when butchered by mechanical hedge flails, it quickly re-sprouts.
Polypodium vulgare cornubiense has finely cut fronds, making it a valued addition to collections. If it reverts and typical, plainer fronds return, they should be removed promptly.
Polypody is indestructible and is as at home behind a wheelie bin in a city as in a rural wood. Many of us have a dark, inhospitable area in our gardens, which is a chance to grow some of the most beautiful plants in the world. There is little chance of anything flowering there but the forms and texture that ferns provide are surprising and often more enduring than any floral display.
REAL BEAUTY Ferns cover so wide a range of greens, no two are identical. But there are a few whose young fronds are not green at all. When Dryopteris erythrosora unfurls its new fronds, they are decidedly orange. Its fronds are glossy and eventually the orange changes to rich green. It really is exceptionally beautiful so it's no surprise that it originates in China and Japan. It has that perfect Oriental poise.
The Japanese painted fern, athyrium niponicum pictum, has fronds decorated with silver and bronze. Our dryopteris dilatata, the native broad buckler fern, is just as graceful and also deciduous.
Ferns are easy and dramatic and, since they thrive in out-of-the-way places, we can all have them in our gardens.
ASK CAROL QI grew gladioli last year, lifted them in the autumn and hung them up in a shed. Can I plant them out again? If so, when? Barbara Goodall, Stockport A They should be fine, though their flowers may not be as showy as those from new corms. Delay planting outside until all danger of frost has gone, and always plant in a sunny position.
Q What is the difference between climbing French beans and runner beans? Sam Brewer, Twickenham, Middlesex A Runner beans are much more vigorous, the yield is heavier and the pods are bigger. It's best to pick them when they are young before they get tough and stringy.
Climbing French beans are my favourite - they are a real delicacy and more versatile. You can eat them hot with butter or cool with a salad vinaigrette dressing.
Carole tends the ferns at Glebe Cottage
Athyrium niponicum pictum and,inset, Dryopteris filix-mas