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A Fondness for Ferns

Posted by admin in Design, Perennials

By Laurie

Ferns are emotive plants that can conjure up visions of other places and times. Ferns give a garden a sense of permanence, timelessness, of always having been there; which is no wonder, as they have been around for over 300 million years!

Soft Shield Fern

Frosty fiddle heads of Soft Shield Fern

Ferns don’t seduce us with flowers, but instead offer exquisite fiddleheads and gorgeous texture. They are elegantly diverse, the quintessential shade foliage plant that comes in all shapes and sizes. They are classy plants with a long season of interest, starting with their intricate unfurling fronds in spring.

Their refined fountain shapes make a strong architectural statement that can soften formal designs and add polish to spare sites. Airy fronds move in the breeze and contrast well with smooth walls, water features and stone. Ferns have a regular, reliable growth habit and won’t outgrow their assigned space very quickly, which makes them easy to place and partner with other plants. In addition to all of these wonderful attributes, ferns are rarely bothered by pests, diseases and deer!

There is a fern for almost every garden situation. They are easy to grow, adaptable and low maintenance. Although the ideal site for a fern is in dappled shade with consistent moisture in well drained soil, they will also grow in full to part shade, and some will even take sun. There are even ferns for difficult places like dry shade, drier sun, wet boggy areas, and clay slopes.

Ferns like a regular amount of moisture especially in their first year, but many can take some drought once established. They appreciate a compost or leaf mould mulch in spring but don’t require any extra fertilizer. Unlike shrubs, ferns don’t need pruning or deadheading. Cutting back their deciduous and evergreen fronds in spring (March) when the ‘knuckles’ appear is the only work needed.)

Deer-Fern-w

Shady ground cover of Deer Fern with Carex ‘Evergold’

Ferns are versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. (See lists of ferns for different uses at the end of this article.) Small charmers can be tucked in containers or crevices or used to edge a shady path. More robust spreading ferns can create a unifying ground cover for naturalizing under trees or along a stream bank. The upright fountain shapes of many larger ferns can be dotted through a border and show best when they rise above smaller mounding shade plants.

Taller ferns are great inter-planted amongst spring bulbs as their spreading fronds cover the dying bulb foliage. Ferns can always be used to fill a difficult shady corner, but they can also add long lasting interest as a specimen at a shady entrance or to frame the sides of steps.

As is often the case, repetition is important. A grouping of three or more ferns repeats their strong, textured pattern and form, which can be a unifying element in a border. Their graceful, finely textured, matte fronds contrasted nicely with larger, simpler, glossy leafed plants.

Giant-Chain-Ferns-w

Textured Fronds of Giant Chain Fern with Ligularia and Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’

Despite all their charms, ferns are underappreciated and underused in our gardens. Perhaps it is too difficult for us in the Pacific Northwest to get beyond the vision of “sword ferns everywhere”.

And, while there is no denying the charms of sword ferns, the world of ferns is so much more. Ferns are simply too captivating to ignore. Find a spot for one (or several!) in your garden and you will never look back.

FERN LISTS FOR DIFFERENT SITUATIONS:
 
FERNS – SUN TOLERANT (with some moisture
)

Asplenium trichomanes – Maidenhair Spleenwort

Athyrium filix-femina – Lady Fern

Cheilanthes tomentosa – Wooly Lip Fern

Dryopteris affinis and cultivars – Golden Scaled Male Fern

Dryopteris x complexa and D. x complexa ‘Robusta’– Robust Male Fern

Dryopteris erythrosora varieties – Autumn Fern

Dryopteris filix-mas and cultivars – Male Fern

Onoclea sensibilis – Sensitive Fern

Osmunda cinnamonea – Cinnamon Fern

Osmunda regalis – Royal Fern

Polypodium glycyrrhiza – Licorice Fern

Polystichum munitum – Sword Fern

 

FERNS FOR WET SOIL

Athyrium filix-femina – Lady Fern

Dryopteris cristata – native

Matteuccia struthiopteris – Ostrich Fern

Onoclea sensibilis – Sensitive Fern

Osmunda cinnamonea – Cinnamon Fern

Osmunda regalis – Royal Fern

Osmunda claytoniana – Interrupted Fern

Adiantum aleuticum – Maidenhair Fern – takes moist, not wet

Dryopteris affinis – Golden Scaled Male – takes moist, not wet

Woodwardia fimbriata – Giant Chain Fern – takes moist, not wet.

 

FERNS FOR DEEP SHADE

Adiantum aleuticum – Maidenhair Fern

Asplenium scolopendrifolium – Harts Tongue Fern

Athyrium filix-femina – Lady Fern

Blechnum splicant – Deer Fern

Crytomium species – Holly Fern

Dryopteris dilatata – Broad Wood Fern

Dryopteris filix-mas – Male Fern

Gymnocarpium dryopteris – Oak Fern

Polypodium glycyrrhiza – Licorice Fern

Polystichum acrostichoides – Christmas Fern (for slopes, erosion control)

Polystichum braunii – Brauns Holly Fern

Polystichum munitum – Sword Fern

Polystichum setiferum – Soft Shield Fern

 

FERNS DROUGHT TOLERANT (once established)

Athyrium filix-femina – Lady Fern

Dryopteris crassirhizoma – Thick Stemmed Wood Fern

Dryopteris filix-mas – Male Fern

Polypodium glycyrrhiza – Licorice Fern

Polystichum braunii – Brauns Holly Fern

Polystichum munitum – Sword Fern

 

FERNS FOR GROUND COVER (either low growers or spreaders)

Adiantum venustum – Himalayan Maidenhair Fern

Athyrium filix-femina – Lady Fern

Blechnum spicant – Deer Fern

Gymnocarpium dryopteris – Oak Fern

Matteuccia struthiopteris – Ostrich Fern

Onoclea sensibilis – Sensitive Fern

Osmunda claytoniana – Interrupted Fern

Polypodium glycyrrhiza – Licorice Fern

Polystichum munitum – Sword Fern

Woodwardia areolata – Netted Chain Fern

 

FERNS FOR COLOUR

Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’

Athyrium ‘Ghost’

Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ varieties – Japanese Painted Ferns

Athyrium otophorum – Eared Lady Fern

Cheilanthes tomentosa – Wooly Lip Fern

Dryopteris erythrosora varieties – Autumn Fern

Dryopteris lepidopoda – Sunset Fern

Dryopteris wallichiana – Wallichs Wood Fern

Onoclea sensibilis – Sensitive Fern

Osmunda regalis ‘Purpurascens’– Purple Stemmed Royal Fern

 

FERNS FOR SPECIMENS (striking appearance, large to medium size)

Dryopteris crassirhizoma – Thick Stemmed Wood Fern

Dryopteris x complexa ‘Robusta’– Robust Male Fern

Dryopteris wallichiana – Wallichs Wood Fern

Osmunda cinnamonea – Cinnamon Fern

Osmunda regalis – Royal Fern

Polystichum setiferum Divisilobum Group – many striking varieties

Polystichum makinoi – Makinois Holly Fern

Polystichum neolobatum – Asian Saber Fern

Woodwardia fimbriata – Giant Chain Fern

FERNS FOR CONTAINERS (use equal mix of soil,compost and bark mulch)

Adiantum aleuticum – Maidenhair Fern

Asplenium scolopendrifolium – Harts Tongue Fern

Asplenium trichomanes – Maidenhair Spleenwort

Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’– Tatting Fern

Athyrium ‘Ghost’

Crytomium species

Dryopteris erythrosora varieties – Autumn Fern

Dryopteris lepidopoda – Sunset Fern

Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Cristata Martindale’

Osmunda regalis – Royal Fern

Polystichum setiferum cultivars

Polystichum tsus-simense – Korean Rock Fern

Polystichum polyblepharum – Tassel Fern

 

(Sources: Olsen, Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns/ Hardy Fern Foundation/internet)

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