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In Praise of Ferns


By AndrewR


In our quest for flower and foliage colour, don’t forget nature’s common hue of green. And if we want interesting leaves, we need look no further than the huge family of ferns. So, if your idea of a fern is this:

read on and see what you’ve been missing.

Ferns don’t have to be green.

Dryopteris dilatata ‘Crispa Whiteside’ – a form of the native hard buckler fern

They can come with shades of pink and grey mixed in -

Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ – the Japanese painted fern that looks at its best earlier in the season. It looks very delicate when the new growth starts in spring but, given a moist site, is pretty tough

Or yellows -

Dryopteris erythrosora – the autumn fern, so-called because it carries autumn colours in spring! (athough the yellow showing now is to be welcomed as well). It is surprisingly evergreen, often looking good even when the first snowdrops bloom.

Although green does highlight things like an acer’s autumn garb -

Polystichum species

We tend to think of fern fronds as heavily divided -

Athyrium filix-femina – the lady fern

Even to the point of going over-the-top -

Polystichum setiferum ‘Plumosum Densum’ – a form of the soft shield fern

But they can also be less ‘busy’ -

Adiantum aleuticum – the Aleutian maidenhair

Frilly -

Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Cristatum’ – a form of hart’s tongue fern

Almost triangular -

Dryopteris sieboldii – a Japanese relative of the male fern

Or even be completely smooth -

Asplenium scolopendrium – hart’s tongue fern. This can take very dry conditions as can -

Blechnum spicant – the hard fern

Sometimes, ferns need a good background to show them off.

Adiantum venustum – the Himalayan maidenhair is very delicate and needs to be near the front of a border

Although more often thought of as woodland plants, other surfaces can set off their delicate foliage -

Polystichum setiferum ‘Congestum’ – a form of the soft shield fern

Even a wooden fence can show off an upright variety -

Matteuccia struthiopteris – the shuttlecock fern

Or variegated foliage -

Polystichum setiferum – the soft shield fern, a British native

Not all ferns are hardy

Asplenium bulbiferum – the hen and chicken’s fern from New Zealand grows new plants along its fronds. Although it will take cold, it cannot cope with winter wet; standing the basket on the floor of a greenhouse is enough to get it through the winter

And when we think we have seen every fern going, something pops up to surprise us -

Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Cristatum’ – close-up

So take a new look at ferns, there is more than to them than meets the eye

More blog posts by AndrewR

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Love ferns too and this blog opens a range of possibilities hadn t considered ,Thank you for sharing very informative.

20 Oct, 2008


Lovely - and interesting. Thanks Andrew. I have a small collection planted this year and have several of those that you have, but there are other attractive ones here new to me! I am busy noting names down in my 'wish list' book!

20 Oct, 2008


I've always loved ferns, and have some here in our new garden. You have just opened my eyes even more to their value and diversity.

20 Oct, 2008


When I moved here I thought - 'No ferns ! '
That was because in my previous garden I was plagued by the male fern. It became a real pest and also the Hart's Tongue fern was quite an intruder.
However there were others - small ones - growing on walls that I wouldn't have minded being in my new garden.
Some of the ones you've shown here are rather nice. I like them and maybe I'll look out for them. But I hope they're not as invasive as the Dryopteris I left behind.

21 Oct, 2008


Same as David, I always loved ferns. Thank you for this wonderful blog Andrew and the excellent pictures which go with it. There are so many ferns, native ones here too, basket fern, which grows against or in the trees for instance, and a native to my region, then the Elkhorn, birdsnest, etc. I love them all. The litte Himalayen maidenhair fern was growing naturally in the SW of Australia as well, right in the bush, but of course along creekbeds or at least damp places, where water collects like miniature water falls. I tried transplanting some of that into my garden there, but it always died. It is indeed delicate.

21 Oct, 2008


A great Blog Andrew.
We are real fans of ferns, and have masees of different varieties with some rare and delicate species.They are superb for giving structure, texture and, in the case of the evergreen varieties, are wonderful for providing winter interest and colour.

'Fernatix' are specialist growers and suppliers of ferns from all over the world, and they have an excellent U.K website:

21 Oct, 2008


Thanks Andrew - an impressive collection you have there! I've got just 3 species of fern in my garden and you've made me realise that i haven't put any of them on my list of plants on GoY. I wonder why we overlook them so much? A personal fav is the Japanese Painted fern. The other 2 I have I must admit I don't know the names of :-S Will have to do something about that then! :-)

21 Oct, 2008


Congratulaions Andrew. This is a really useful Blog.I have only 3 or 4 different ones including the usual Male Fern, but I think your photos will let me name the others. Thanks very much

21 Oct, 2008


A great blog Andrew i also have a few ferns, but some of those you have shown are really nice, will be looking for some of themto add to mine.

24 Oct, 2008


Nice blog Andrew, very interesting.

24 Oct, 2008


Kindred spirit. Ferns love my garden - too much! The garden's too small to give them full rein. It really hurts to (with difficulty) keep them (some of them) in check. My favourite adiantum is all but overwhelmed by the polystichum, which has such a lovely crown it's difficult to reduce. Sharp knife needed! You've inspired me to go out and sort them out.

24 Oct, 2008


Strangely enough a fern found its way into my shopping trolley this week. A fern was one of the first plants I grew as a child, I was surprised to find I had only one growing in my current garden, so I had to find a bed-mate for it, didn't I? I must add them to my 'Garden' here on GoY too..

25 Oct, 2008

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