Our focus this spring is 'Renewal' in the garden and what better example of that are ferns unfurling their fronds every spring. Ferns have been a staple in the shade garden for a long time - a very long time. Dr. Oliver Sacks who spent his life hunting for and documenting rare varieties of ferns said the following:
‘Ferns had survived, with little change, for a third of a billion years,'' he notes. ''Other creatures, like dinosaurs, had come and gone, but ferns, seemingly so frail and vulnerable, had survived all the vicissitudes, all the extinctions the earth had known. My sense of a prehistoric world, of immense spans of time, was first stimulated by ferns and fossil ferns.'
Another interesting part of fern history involves Dr. Nathaniel Ward, a surgeon who lived in London in the early 1800's. Dr. Ward was also interested in botany and entomology. Quite by accident, he discovered that although ferns could not survive the polluted London air, they could thrive under glass. So he made the first terrarium in the early 1800’s for his personal fern collection. His discovery made it possible for English explorers to collect species of plants from around the world and ship them back to London. And the first plants to be successfully shipped? Ferns.
So how about you? Do you have a case of pteridomania, also known as fern craziness? We hope you will after reading about the following varieties of ferns.
How to Grow Ferns
In general, ferns prefer moist soil and part shade to full shade.
Ferns are also deer-resistant and rabbit resistant.
Lady in Red (Athyrium)
•Tolerates dry soil as well as full sun in moist soil
• Grows 18-30” tall
Lady Fern (Athyrium felix-femina)
Grows 2-3’ x 2-3’
Ferns pair well with the broad leaves of hostas. In the photo above, Hosta 'Remember Me' and a miniature hosta give a nice contrast with the Lady Fern.
Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum)
Grows 18” tall and has silver foliage with hints of burgundy.
Pair the Japanese Painted Fern with the glossy, broad leaves of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), a groundcover for the shade.
Try this great shade combination: (from left to right) dark leaf Heuchera, chartreuse hosta, Epimedium, and Japanese Painted Fern.
Japanese Painted Fern ‘Apple Court’
Fern with crested tips, grows to 12" tall.
Also known as Victorian Lady Fern, 'Dre's Dagger' is sport of Athyrium filix-femina. It is compact at 18" tall and wide and has upright stems.
'Ghost' is a cross between Japanese Painted Fern and the Lady Fern and grows 30” tall.
An interesting combination for part shade: two varieties of Heuchera with 'Ghost' fern and blue blooming Ajuga.
'Godzilla' is a Japanese Painted Fern on steroids! It grows 3' tall and 4-6' wide.
Have fun with 'Godzilla' by pairing it with the large-growing 'Sun King' Spikenard (Arelia cordata shown above).
'Bulblet' Fern (Cystopteris)
Grows 12” tall x 24” wide
It forms small bulblets in late summer that drop to the ground and grow new plants.
Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)
This native fern grows 2’ x 3’. The fronds release a fragrance reminiscent of fresh mown hay when brushed with a hand, crushed or bruised. As a bonus, the fronds turn yellow in fall.
Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
This dark green fern is called the Christmas fern for two reasons: in some zones it stays green at Christmas time and secondly, the pinnae are shaped like stockings. It grows 2’ tall and because it is native to North America it thrives in dry and moist wooded areas.
Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance')
Grows 18" tall and wide in moist shade.
An elegant lacy fern on black stems, this pretty Himalayan Maidenhair Fern is hardy to zone 4 and grows only 12" tall.
I'll close with a few landscaping ideas with ferns.
- Tracy Hankwitz
Burlington Garden Center
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