One of our special joys this past week, our unfolding ferns, continue to pop up in surprising places.
Although some varieties, like Autumn Brilliance, are hardy and provide color and mass throughout the winter; others, like these little Japanese Painted Ferns, are deciduous.
Deciduous ferns disappear entirely after a hard freeze, and you almost forget about them.
Then, after a stretch of warm days in the spring, they just suddenly appear again. It seems like they just pop up overnight.
Once they begin growing, ferns unfurl their fronds very quickly.
Ferns are one of my favorite perennial plants. Not only are they beautiful throughout the season, but they are never bothered by deer. They require no maintenance.
Many varieties of Autumn, Christmas, and Lady ferns even grow in partial sun, provided they have adequate moisture. These plants naturalize beautifully, most spreading by underground stems which wander hither and yon beyond the original plant.
Adding ferns to a planting creates an instant feeling of peace and relaxation. Their softness “takes the edge off” their surroundings, and helps other plants in the group weave together more harmoniously.
I often use ferns in container plantings. Lady Ferns grow especially well indoors, even in the winter.
Several need potting up or dividing this week as they’ve grown so much over the winter.
I like Japanese painted ferns, or Ghost ferns, around the trunks of small shrubs.
I often add them to a Four Season planting featuring a shrub or small tree. Even though the Japanese Fern disappears over the winter, they add such interest in spring as the shrub also begins to grow again.
Several shady areas of our garden are given over almost entirely to ferns. Their movement in the breeze adds texture and interest to areas where not much else will grow.
Because deer tend to find their way in, despite our best efforts, the Heuchera and Solomon’s Seal I’ve planted here in past years was frequently munched, and never looked good.
About all we’ve had success with in these wild areas are ferns, Hellebores, moss, and spring bulbs.
Last spring I planted a beautiful fern in a hanging basket with some annuals, and hung it on our deck in partial shade. I forgot to note the variety, and so didn’t know whether or not it was a hardy fern. It grew large and lush over the summer, but there was no space to over-winter it inside.
It was a loser in the lottery of which plants would winter in the house or garage. We moved it up close to the wall of the house, in a sheltered spot, and hoped for the best. Sadly, by January it was entirely brown.
Earlier this week I was turning it out of its basket in order to re-use the basket with a fresh planting for the season ahead.
Just as the root ball was headed to the compost… I saw fiddleheads! The fern survived the winter! I happily repotted it into a larger basket with fresh soil, gave it a drink of Neptune’s Harvest, and set it back into its protected spot.
As soon as the fiddleheads uncurl, and our weather settles out, I’ll happily hang it up for another season on the deck.
Ferns are an affordable luxury. Most retail for under $10.00, even in a gallon sized pot. I purchase them in pots 4″ or smaller.
Homestead Garden Center offered many varieties of fern in little 2.5″ pots for $2.50 last year, and I keep pestering the Patton family to please offer them again in the small size this year.
When you are careful to purchase hardy ferns, even deciduous ones, it is a great long term investment in the garden.
Ferns work well against a foundation, along walls and hedges, as a backdrop for a border, under established trees, and in naturalized areas.
The key to success is in knowing how much light a given cultivar can take and in keeping the soil moist during times of drought.
With so many species and cultivars, there is a color, form, and size for most every taste.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014