Stories from Hospitalfield: The Fernery

The Fernery at Hospitalfield was designed in 1872 by Patrick Allan-Fraser as a grotto-like building intended to house a number of New Zealand tree ferns that were presented to him by Captain Peter Logan. Logan was an Arbroath-born mariner who made several voyages to New Zealand captaining ships for the Glasgow-based shipping firm Henderson & Company. These ships took tens of thousands of people emigrating to the Antipodes and Logan is likely to have brought a number of exotic plants back with him.


We have inherited relatively little archive material on the Fernery at Hospitalfield. We know that it was heated using a boiler, fed from a well on the estate, which also heated the glasshouses. There were also two covered boxes inside for displaying orchids. What ferns were grown in it, or how it really looked in its heyday, is a bit of a mystery. However, we do know about the buildings gradual decline into disrepair from the minutes of the Trustees Meetings which record damage to the Fernery from a tree in 1917. In a 1921 report to the Trustees by James Braid we learn that:

“The glass roof, end and front of the fernery are certainly in a very bad way.”

When Braid advised the removal of the roof, the Trustees decided not to at that time. The roof was eventually removed in 1929 after Mr Menzies, the Estate Overseer reported that:

“The greater part of the Fern House roof is in a dangerous condition and it is advisable, for the safety of the garden staff, that the same should be taken down.”

Now Grade B listed (a particularly important building of more than special interest), this is the only surviving Fernery on the east coast of Scotland.  After decades of neglect, it has become part of an exciting new chapter for the Walled Garden. In addition to a newly created garden designed by Nigel Dunnett and a brand new Café designed by Caruso St. John, the Fernery is being restored to its former glory. It will be replanted with the varieties of ferns likely to have been in the original, including a number of tree ferns.

Hospitalfield are working with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh who are advising on which ferns to plant and how to successfully grow and maintain them. They are also kindly supplying us with a number of ferns to help start the project.