Fantastic Fronds & Friends

Some folks think only of the ubiquitous sword fern when ferns are recommended by us greenies here at the nursery. There is so much potential in this diverse group of plants! Not only do they have ecological importance having evolved from ancient plants pre-flora, but they also have great design value for their amazing texture and lush foliage.

Ranging from over six feet to under 6 inches, this eclectic plant group offers something for everyone. Most prefer shadeand moist soil, however some are tolerant of a little sun, especially if they’re kept well-watered. Ferns fall into two main categories:  Deciduous(loses leaves during winter) and evergreen. All ferns that we will discuss are hardy in the lowland Pacific Northwest. While deciduous ferns offer lots of seasonal drama, their evergreen cousins are very useful for long-lived architectural structure.

Many ferns possess striking and colorful fronds that can really brighten up an overlooked shady corner of the garden.

  • Dryopteris is a genus of deciduous ferns that offer a big pop of color. Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ and D. wallichiana ‘Jurassic Gold’ have emerging foliage tinted bright golden yellow that mellows to orange before eventually turning bright green. Both grow to about 2’ tall and wide. Such bright golden fronds pair well with dark leafed ground covers like Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), Lysimachia ‘Persian Chocolate’, or dark-foliaged Ajuga such as ‘Black Scallop’, all of which contrast amazingly with bright new foliage.
  • Another deciduous fern that offers colorful fronds is the Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium niponicum. Athyrium niponicum and its cultivars grow to about 2’ and offer silvery fronds painted with strokes of red and purple. It pairs well with variegated ground covers like Ajuga ‘Princess Nadia’ and Pachysandra ‘Silver Edge’, or with the aforementioned dark leafed ground covers. A hybrid between our native Athyrium felix-femina (a garden-worthy fern in its own right) and the Japanese Painted Fern resulted in the brilliant A. ‘Ghost’, which is taller and more uniformly silver compared to its parent. Another great Athyrium is A. filix-femina ‘Victoriae’, a version of the native Lady fern which grows about 18” tall and offers lacy serrated foliage. These all pair well with Heuchera, especially purple/silver varieties like ‘Spellbound’, ‘Plum Pudding’, or ‘Forever Purple’.
  • Adiantum aleuticum, Western Maindenhair fern, is delicate looking but hardy here in the PNW. This native fern bears lacy fronds above black stems, and grows 18-36” tall and wide. Western Maidenhair is sure to evoke memories of enchanting waterfalls, where it grows on cliffs within reach of water spray.

Those looking to bring a tropical flair into their garden need look no further than the dramatic evergreen ferns like the Japanese Holly Fern Cyrtomium falcatum ‘Rochfordianum’, the Giant Chain Fern Woodwardia fimbriata, or the hardy Ribbon fern Pteris cretica Jurassic™ ‘Velociraptor’.

  • The Japanese Holly Fern offers 2’ tall and 3’ wide clumps with dark green fringed holly like leaf.  Perfect for areas towards the front of your shade border where you’ll be able to admire the glossy green foliage. Cyrtomium ‘Rochfordianum’ pairs well with other unique woodland perennials such as Begonia grandis ‘Heron’s Pirouette‘, Toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta), Hostas, and Astilbes.
  • The Giant Chain Fern lives up to its name, growing 6’ tall and 6-9’ wide.Woodwardia offer excellent architectural interest, but is also useful as a hedging plant to screen out unwanted sights and sounds.
  • The Ribbon Fern, Pteris ‘Velociraptor’ offers deeply serrated ribbon like foliage that rises about 2-3’ above the ground on slim stems giving a lush tropical effect without any worry about losing it in a harsh winter cold snap.
  • The Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is a similarly sized dramatic fern but is deciduous, perfect for spots where you want summertime drama but want the space unoccupied during the winter. Pair these with shorter ferns and woodland perennials with varying foliage textures to create a unique and intriguing garden setting.

A great way to incorporate ferns is to use them to break up the monotony of the foliage of common shade plants such as rhododendron and hydrangea. Their many forms, sizes and colors create a calming, sometimes mysterious, woodland feel to your landscape. Come visit Bellevue Nursery and explore all that ferns have to offer! 

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