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Back in the mid-1800's parts of England were gripped by 'pteridomania', also known as fern fever. Victorians were fascinated by the diversity in appearance, cultural requirements, and how they reproduced. Greenhouses and ferneries were constructed to house the vast collections brought from far travels.
We've got a touch of pteridomania here at BGC and hope you'll catch it, too! Whether you intend to collect many varieties to create your own outdoor fernery, or simply enjoy a couple favorites, ferns can be mixed into the shade garden among broad-leaved hostas and other shade lovers.
Ferns in general like moist, organic soil in part to full shade. We have ten varieties that are hardy here is Wisconsin to get you started. Here we feature seven of them.
Let's begin with the Athyrium group of ferns which includes the popular Japanese painted fern. Above is Athyrium x 'Ghost' which is a cross between the Japanese Painted fern and the Lady fern. 'Ghost' has upright silver fronds that can reach 24". It really catches the eye in the shade garden.
'Lady in Red' (Athyrium filix-femina) is stunning when back lit by dappled sunlight. Grows 18-30".
If you want something unusual, Athyrium 'Ocean's Fury' is for you. Look carefully at the photo above and you'll see that the tips of each leaflet are forked or crested. 'Ocean's Fury' makes a lovely 3'x3' mound of gray-green lacy foliage.
One more from the Athyrium group to mention is 'Branford Beauty'. A cross between the Japanese Painted and Lady ferns gives it colorful leaves and a soft look. Give this fern morning sun to get the best leaf coloring. Grows 18"x18".
Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum, is a Wisconsin native and has delicate fan-shaped fronds on wiry, black stems. Grows 12-16".
Berry Bladder Fern, Cystopteris bulbifera, is a delicate looking fern that spreads by bulblets instead of spores and can grow to 12" tall.
This last one is a staff favorite and sure to win you over. Brilliance Autumn Fern, Dryopteris erythrosora, has coppery-red new foliage that turns dark green when mature. Grows 18-24" and spreads by runners.
Many of us are familiar with the spring-blooming alliums - the big purple balls atop of tall bare stems. With names like 'Gladiator', 'Globe Master', 'Mount Everest' and Allium giganteum, you can expect them to make a big impression in the garden. Planted as bulbs in the fall or potted perennials in the spring, they send up their leaves in early spring, followed by huge balls of purple or white that shoot up and open like fireworks. Even as they dry on the stem, the flowers add interest to the garden.
Lesser known alliums include two of my favorites: Allium 'Summer Beauty'(shown below) and Allium 'Lavender Lollipop' (shown above). They bloom mid to late summer and though smaller in stature, they add a whimsical touch lasting well into the fall.
'Lavender Lollipop' (Allium x 'Windy City') is a new introduction from Brent Horvath from Intrinsic Perennial Gardens located in our backyard in Hebron, IL. It's a deeper shade of purple, floriferous, and stands tall on 15-18" stems. Like other alliums, they need full sun, are drought tolerant and deer resistant.
Allium x 'Summer Beauty' is a good companion to several other perennials such as hardy geraniums (above).
The deep purple of Stachys officinalis or Salvia 'Cardonna' along with the blue spruce make a nice backdrop for these allium clumps.
Alliums planted in drifts with Calamintha nepeta 'White Cloud'.
Grasses like Seslaria autumnalis (Autumn moor grass) or Sporobolis heterolepis (Prairie dropseed), Echinacea (coneflowers), and Perovskia (Russian sage) create a natural prairie-like setting for summer alliums.
Though they look like their cousin, common chives, summer alliums are ornamental onions, not edible. They have a sterile seed so they stay well behaved in their clumps,
Stop by and pick up an allium or two and add some whimsy to your garden.
- Tracy Hankwitz,
BGC Store Manager
Midsummer finds many perennials at their peak, so I recently took the opportunity to visit a nearby perennial garden. The garden belongs to BGC Staff member, Sharon Marrano, and has a few design examples that we all can learn from and apply to our own perennial gardens.
The white fence provides a clean backdrop showing off plantings on each side.
DESIGN TIP #1: Spread out.
Allow enough space for each type of perennial to do it's thing. Here, red monarda, yellow daylily, and almost-ready-to-bloom Russian sage, each have 2.5-3 feet of space to fill. Also notice the staggered height of the three plants.
DESIGN TIP #2: Vary flower form.
The flowers of the lily, allium, and phlox (in back) are all shades of pink. It works in this space because each variety has a different flower shape.
DESIGN TIP #3: Hide spent foliage.
Oriental and Asiatic lilies are lovely when in bloom, but once they are finished, the foliage left behind can be an eyesore. Here Sharon has planted interplanted ferns with the lilies to disguise the declining leaves and stems of the lilies.
DESIGN TIP #4: Vary leaf texture.
When pairing perennials in the garden, it's important to consider the leaf texture. If done well, the foliage will continue to be interesting long after the flowers are done blooming.
The coneflowers (on the right in the photo above) have a medium leaf texture. The bright green grass-like leaves of the daylily on the left provide good contrast.
To the left of the daylily is a large clump of tall sedum (shown below) bringing fall color as well as a round, fleshy leaf texture.
DESIGN TIP #5: Let plants intermingle.
Yellow yarrow and blue balloon flowers (above) make good partners coming from opposite sides of the color wheel. Instead of manicuring them into their own clumps, Sharon has allowed them to intermingle for a cottage garden look.
DESIGN TIP #6: Play with color.
The soft gray foliage of Russian sage makes a nice background for the pastel pink and yellow daylily (above).
Bold colors catch the eye in this grouping of red monarda, purple delphinium, and yellow coreopsis (below).
I'm off to the garden to move a few of my perennials.
Until next time, happy gardening!
- Tracy Hankwitz
Store Manager of
Burlington Garden Center
Do you want to know the secret for yummy baked goods?Homemade vanilla extract. It's easy to make and so worth the wait.
Cut two vanilla beans into thirds and place them in an airtight bottle or jar. We love these sealed, vintage-looking bottles that are perfect for this project (and available here at BGC.)
Fill the bottle with vodka, seal, and place in a cool, dry place for at least 4 months. Enjoy!