Ferns for every situation
The mating practices of hedgehogs have provided school boys (and girls) with endless scope for speculation over the years, but have you ever wondered how ferns reproduce? You only have to imagine a fern in your mind’s eye to know that they don’t have the showy flowers or copious seedheads of other plants, so how do they do it?
To answer this, it helps to remind ourselves that they are in fact very primitive plants. They were around in the time of dinosaurs so it is perhaps fitting that they produce spores instead of seeds. These are so light that they are easily carried by the wind. Wherever they land, new ferns grow. Unknown to us, the spring breeze helps to spread ferns every time it blows.
Ideal for ‘problem corners’
No group of plants is better than ferns for dealing with those ‘problem corners’ where little else will thrive. The north side of the house, a corner under trees; challenging situations like this are exactly where ferns grow best. Most don’t like the heat of the fierce midday sun. They prefer the cooler sun of early morning or later afternoon. They do need moist conditions, but simply laying a few stones on the ground around them can be enough to conserve sufficient moisture. The paving slabs many garden paths are built from have the same effect.
Easy maintenance for maximum enjoyment
Ferns are easy, low maintenance plants that need minimal care. The old leaves die back into the ground, providing food for the plant as new shoots unfurl. Ferns are virtually immune to attack from slugs and other pests. Mulching with a quality compost helps maintain optimum conditions, but ferns deliver a lot whilst asking for very little in the way of care. Right from spring, as the first coiled fronds appear, through the confident, arching growth of summer to the glory of autumn colours, ferns are always bringing pleasure.
Which variety suits your garden best?
The range of ferns on offer is considerable. This is just a selection of what is available, so ask at your local garden centre and look online to add to these.
- Polypodium vulgare, with its dark, feathered fronds is enlivened by red spots on their undersides. This is a strong fern, but not a fast growing one.
- The deer fern or hard fern (Blechnum spicant) is an evergreen fern with flattened, bright green leaves. The new shoots are red-tinged whilst they are still rolled up.
- Osmunda regalis, also known as the royal or king fern is very impressive, reaching almost 1m in height at maturity. It exhibits the most wonderful golden colour in autumn. The king fern thrives in shaded or partially shaded situations, ideally on humus rich soils.
- Polystichum aculeatum (the hard shield fern) reaches 40-50cm in height and is an evergreen fern that in its wild form is abundant in upland regions of the British Isles. As a cultivated fern, it has been given the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), an accolade that highlights outstanding cultivated plants.
- Dryopteris, the wood fern or male fern is a highly decorative plant with fronds that develop in rosettes – almost like shuttlecocks. The deciduous Dryopteris filix-mas is also an AGM plant and can reach 1.3m in height. Other varieties of Dryopteris can be semi-evergreen or evergreen. Dryopteris erythrosora is a smaller deciduous variety, ideally suited to growing in pots.
If you’ve got a damp garden with lots of shade, a dry garden with partial shade, little room left between established plants or a naturalistic garden then you’ll be able to find a wealth of ferns to suit you. There is a fern for virtually every situation. April is the best time for exploring, buying or planting ferns so go out and discover!