Ferns provide elegant soft green foliage in shady areas of the garden. They’re wonderful when planted under trees with other shade-tolerant perennials such as white astrantia and which work best en masse creating a calm, woodland feel. Evergreen ferns look good all year round, but dot in a few deciduous ones to enjoy the sight of their fronds unfurling. Here’s our pick:
Evergreen: Polystichum setiferum is a useful and attractive evergreen fern that grows to around a metre high and is able to tolerate some sun. ‘Herrenhausen’ is slightly more delicate and lower growing. P. braunnii is my new discovery, with lovely bright green leaves. Dryopteris erythrosora has semi-evergreen lime green, russet-tinged leaves while Dryopteris affinis “Cristata” has upright fresh green leaves for most of the year. Asplenium scolopendrium, or hart’s tongue ferns, are a useful evergreen with large glossy leaves, while Blechnum spicant is useful for smaller spaces.
Deciduous: Dryopteris wallichiana has upright bright green fronds of up to 90cm high. Athyrium filix femina is a beautiful large fern with soft lacy fronds – a stunner if you have the space as it gets to half a metre. Dryopteris filix femina is another nice large fern. For some real impact, Osmunda regalis is a giant (2m) fern with bright green fronds in spring – it likes moisture so would be ideal in a bog garden. Finally, Dicksonia Antarctica, or tree fern, is great to add drama or a bit of exotic to your garden – but tends to need some winter protection.