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I get excited when I pull into the driveway and see an old bucket or box on my porch. I know that a friend has been in their garden dividing plants and has thought of me and the little house on a big hill garden.

That is just what happened one day in the early spring. Ferns! My porch was full of ferns.

I knew exactly where I would plant them. I have a deep shady spot that I have been working to reinvent. These ferns would be perfect for the area under the trees, next to the fence that gives no protection whatsoever from the deer that bed down on the pine needles nearby.

I got lucky, and it rained for days after I got the ferns in the ground. This really helped them settle in and call their new garden home. However, I still didn’t know much about these plants.

As luck would have it, my friend has an extensive library of past garden journals and magazines (as all of the best gardeners do). After a bit of research, she found a photo and name for the ferns.

The Sensitive Fern (Onoclea Sensibilis) reaches a height of one-to-two feet, loves deep shade and wet feet. It is mostly deer resistant and grows in clay soil. The big bright green leaves, or fronds, provide protection for small animals and insects in the garden.

The fern got its name from being sensitive to frost and moisture levels. The first frost will nip the green leaves. No need to cut them back; let them be and become organic matter for the garden. What will remain are tall upright dark brown fronds. These will produce beads or spores that enable the plant to reproduce in the spring.

Now that I knew the plant’s name, I was curious about how it came to be in my friend’s garden. Trust me; there is always a good story about what is in her garden.

Years ago, she and her mom would routinely walk the Sunrise Carriage Trail to explore the plants, get a little exercise, and chat about their week. Her mom was a talker and soon struck up a conversation with a gardener doing work near the Stone Grotto. He was weeding spring beds and separating ferns. They chatted about the early spring wildflowers and how quickly they had multiplied.

By the end of the conversation, the generous gardener was wrapping a few clumps of ferns in newspaper and sharing with my friends. He also shared a booklet about the trail. Mom and daughter hurried home, planted the ferns, and stashed the booklet in a garden journal.

All these years later, those original fern clumps have formed a fabulous garden bed. It is thinned out every few years. This is important because it keeps the plants healthy and prevents disease from forming in the damp area. This maintenance is good for the ferns, and lucky gardeners like me get a little piece of not one but two gardens when that happens.

The Sunrise Carriage Trail dates back to 1905 as a way for Governor McCorkle to travel privately up and down the hill. The trail is slightly less than a mile long but is an uphill climb. It is well cared for and beautiful. I encourage you to visit the trail but please do not dig or remove the plants that are there for all to enjoy.

Jane Powell is a longtime West Virginia University Extension Service master gardener through the Kanawha County chapter. She is the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Find her blog, “Gardening in Pearls,” at You can contact her at

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