Ferns are often an over looked group of plants, but since their Victorian heyday they are quite rightly beginning to have their turn back in the limelight. They are much more than the go to plant for a shady difficult spot. They go from the large and dramatic, to small and delicate foliage. Although most do like damp humus rich conditions in partial shade, some do well in full sun and even dry shallow chalk. Here are a few to consider.
Asplenium trichomanes: The maidenhair fern, is a stunningly delicate fern, it is evergreen with mid to dark green pinnate foliage on elegant black stems. Reaching 15cm in height, and with spreading rhizomes. In fact they will sneak in and populate small crevices in walls and will cope well with lime and tolerate dry shade.
Athyrium niponicum var.pictum: The Japanese painted fern. Is a stunningly beautiful fern. The leaves blend from pale grey through to powdery blue with splashes of soft pink and sliver. This deciduous fern likes light shade and moist humus rich conditions. Growing up to 30cm tall is makes good dense ground cover.
Cyrtomium falcatum: Japanese Holly Fern, a striking evergreen fern forming a strong growing clump growing up to 60cm. With dark green glossy fonds with a holly like appearance. Ideal for a shady spot. It is a acid lover and thrives in humus rich soil.
Polystichum setiferum: Soft shield fern, this is a wonderfully tolerant garden plant, it will cope with deep shade and bright sunshine, good in humus rich soils but will also thieve in thin drying chalk soils. An evergreen fern which produced a wide clump of mid green pinnate fonds up to 60/90cm high. Brilliant as a back drop plant as well as a evergreen statement in a winter planting and also dose very well in a pot in a shady corner, it has much to commended it.
Dryopteris cycadina: The Buckler fern, A deciduous fern, with a dramatic habit of upright growth. Mid spring sees bright green shuttlecocks unfurling into mid green fonds. Growing up to 60cm tall, it will cope with some sun and tolerate dry shade. A dramatic addition to the garden setting.
Dicksonia antaretica: The tree fern. This is the big daddy of the fern world, and it has that wow factor in spades, whether seen in it’s native habitant of temperate rain forest in Australasia or as a lone specimen in a garden. An erect rhizome covered in a mass of roots, forms the ‘trunk’. It is very slow growing taking 10 years to grow 30 cm. From the top of the trunk unfurl, a reset of long mid green fonds, you really can imagine a Dinosaur., wondering between them! It is possible to grow this fern in the warmer parts of England, as long as they are grown in a sheltered position in semi-shade in humus rich moist conditions and the crown of the fern and trunk are insulated with straw and well wrapped in the winter months. It is a worthy addition to any shade garden.
I hope I have inspired you to think again about these wonderful plants that should be set for a resurgence even if not quite on the level of the enthusiastic Victorians. Happy Planting!