When you’re planning what to plant, do your eyes sometimes glaze over while reading the growing instructions? Does it all seem too complicated, to find some success with the plants you want to grow? No one earns points on a tally for growing complicated plants. Maybe that is why I love growing ferns. Most are happy enough to find a home for their roots that they just take off, making a beautiful planting with very little effort.
Ferns are such ancient plants, appearing in the fossil record millions of years ago, long before the first tree or flower, that the same species may be native to several continents. Take the classic lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina. It is considered native to North America, Great Britain, Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Related North American natives include the northern lady fern. Athyrium angustum (Zones 4-8), and the southern lady fern, Athyrium asplenioides (Zones 5-9).
There are nearly 200 Athyrium species, which grow throughout the northern hemisphere. Any curious gardener can fill a garden with an Athyrium collection. There are beautiful selections more than 100 years in cultivation, and new selections regularly come on the market.
Some of the most colorful and ornamental lady ferns are native to Asia. The most well-known, the Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum,’ has burgundy stipes and silver markings on its sometimes gray, sometimes burgundy fronds. Another beautiful Asian fern, the eared lady fern, Athyrium otophorum, emerges greenish gold and matures to a beautiful shade of green. All of these are hardy in our area.