Send in the Fronds

THE Archbishop John Ireland used to pray in my kitchen — or so the neighbors say. Long before it was my attic apartment, this space was reportedly his home chapel in St. Paul, Minn.

A giant of American Catholicism in the early 20th century, Archbishop Ireland gave the Twin Cities a pair of monumental churches, the Basilica of St. Mary and the Cathedral of Saint Paul. He left me something humbler: a third-floor walk-up with sloping bead board ceilings and dormer windows.

These cubbies, carved into the wainscoting, look as if they were meant to display something. But what? A domed canary cage? A bust of St. Polycarp, patron saint of earache sufferers?

The other day, I experienced something like an epiphany. What the kitchen needed was a hanging fern.

A few decades ago, the plant to buy would have been obvious: a Boston fern. Anyone would recognize Nephrolepis exaltata. It’s the ferny-looking fern — the one with the long, shaggy ruffles of greenery, cascading like a fondue fountain.

The Boston fern is not without its merits, noted Tom Stuart, proprietor of the Hardy Fern Library, an online taxonomical guide.

“There’s almost no way to kill a Boston fern,”