The “discovery” of foliage as accents in the perennial garden has led to incredible developments in ferns, hosta, Heuchera, and Pulmonaria among others. In fact, for certain perennials, the focus has been more on innovations in foliage than in the flowers. This has been especially true for the shade loving perennials – this is why I said you are blessed! Shade gardeners can take advantage of this and plant some extremely exotic foliage plants
Ferns are a wonderful addition to the shade or woodland garden. They intrigue us with their form and grace and provide a beautiful natural look in the garden. Their leaves vary in color and texture from the delicate, lacy, light green fronds of Maidenhair Fern to the bold, leathery, deep green fronds of Christmas Fern. Ferns have become so popular that every year new and even more exciting cultivars are being developed.
For me, ferns evoke memories of quiet walks through the misty woodlands of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cool, moist forest floor is covered with an abundance of different ferns. I have tried to replicate that same feeling in my own shady woodland garden. Ferns, hosta, and wildflowers abound – but the ferns are the highlight. Their great diversity in foliage is a wonderful compliment to the large-leaved hosta, Pulmonaria, Polygonatum, and Dicentra.
The fiddleheads are one of more interesting stages of fern growth.
In the early spring, the emergence of these fascinating fiddleheads provides additional interest in the garden. Seeing how these tightly coiled packages unfurl into delicate fronds is certainly an amazing thing!
The beautiful cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) are fun because they have the interesting fertile fronds that poke up from the center of the clump like big cinnamon sticks - hence the name. They are large and bold and make quite a statement in the garden.
Japanese Painted Fern
Another one of my favorites is the Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum'). Andre's father, Martin Viette, actually introduced this fern into the nursery trade from the gardens of Alex Summers on Long Island. It is a delightful fern with bright silver, red, and green variegation. This very colorful fern was voted the Perennial Plant Association ‘Plant of the Year’ for 2004. I have some planted around a beautiful weeping Japanese maple - talk about a striking combination.
Ghost fern (Athyrium x 'Ghost') is another neat fern variety. It's a hybrid of Japanese Painted Fern and Lady-fern with silvery pale green fronds - stunning. That would be awesome with a Japanese maple backdrop or planted among some of the red leaved Heuchera cultivars!
Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) has graceful spiral fronds! It looks so delicate in the garden with bright green foliage swirling around on dark stems - an amazing splash of texture to the woodland garden.
Autumn Fern – Dryopteris erythrosora
Ostrich Fern – Matteuccia strutheropteris
Christmas Fern – Polystichum acrostichoides