Figuring out ferns to fit your garden is fun. The photo above shows a new planting of Hay scented ferns at the Smithsonian gardens. This shady spot is so inviting. Once the right fern is in the right spot, there is nothing to do but sit back and enjoy fluttering fronds. The following four ferns are perennial favorites for their low maintenance, interesting shapes, and unique features.
Christmas fern (Polystichum acrosstichoides) is common and there is a reason. It grows in drier as well as moist soils. It can also take partial sun conditions. Christmas fern is technically an evergreen though its fronds sort of lay down over the winter. Christmas ferns also really add structure to the garden with their fairly stiff upright fronds during the growing season.
Hairy lipped fern (Cheilanthes lanosa) looks so delicate but is pretty tough. It actually grows better in grittier dryer soils and can take some sun. Its fronds will turn dry and brown during low moisture periods and then green up when water is available. This is a small fern growing to just under and foot tall and wide.
Lady fern “Victoriae” (Athyrium filix Femina ‘Victoriae’) has a round symmetrical shape that stays neat and tidy. Many ferns look more suited to naturalized planting styles but this fern would be great in more formal gardens. It can grow to a foot and a half tall and two feet wide. This fern can take some sun but must have moist soils.
Hay sccented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) is a light green fern looks light and lacy when planted in a drift. If you plant it in the moist, shady humous conditions it loves, you will have a glade of the most graceful ferns in a couple of years. Hay scented fern grows from one to three feet tall depending on the growing conditions and will spread in the right situation. Its spectacular lime green color lights up a shady corner.
I am a fan of planting ferns in containers. Christmas, Hairy lipped and Lady fern ‘Victoriae’ do fine in containers and will actually winter over. Last, one of the most fantastic facets of ferns is watching the “unfurl” in spring. It’s like nature in motion.
For more detailed information about gardening with ferns, this article by the Piedmont Master Gardeners is a great resource.
If you are looking for fern gardening ideas, you might enjoy this article from Better Homes & Gardens. As most popular press articles on gardening do, the article highlights many ornamental plants as well as a few natives. Of course, we know there is a suitable native substitute for most ornamentals.
Same caveat for this post from Monrovia about some more creative things to do with ferns.
Are you a fanatic for ferns? Check out this workshop at the Mt. Cuba Center on propagating ferns.