By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
If you're a lover of ferns, then growing hay scented fern in the woodland garden will certainly feed your enjoyment of these plants. Read this article to learn more. Click here for additional info.
Ferns are a widely varied group of plants. Their native habitats range from the tropics to the Arctic and from deserts to swamps. They may be coarse or delicate, succulent or filmy, crown forming or creeping, lime lovers or lime intolerant, invasive weeds or virtually impossible to cultivate. One of the first plant groups to adapt to life on land, ferns have since adapted to most conditions and environments, but relatively few are able to contend with direct sunlight and low humidity. Most species need moist soil, high humidity and enough shade to maintain these conditions.
Ferns are essentially wildlings unlike many of the flowering plants, such as herbaceous perennials, they have not been hybridized for garden conditions. Before you begin your fern garden, observe the ferns growing naturally in your area. Most of these are available commercially. Be sure to place them in your garden where conditions are comparable to those supporting the native ferns in the wild. Be cautious in your selection. If a fern's growth in the wild is rampant, it is likely to be even more so in your garden. If the fern grows only in a specialized habitat, such as moist rock crevices, it may be difficult to grow in the garden. Grow only those plants for which you have the proper conditions. Never collect ferns from the wild. When you buy ferns, look for reputable dealers who state explicitly that their plants are nursery propagated, not collected from the wild. Selected forms with fancy fronds are always nursery propagated.
Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade. The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas. For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to [email protected] Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.
Part of the Idea Garden at Longwood Gardens
I recently visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I have no hesitancy in saying that Longwood is one of the premier gardens in the world and should be on everyone’s life list. However, there is so much there that it is difficult to post about it. Also, “familiarity breeds contempt.” I hold two Certificates in Ornamental Horticulture from Longwood and have taken a total of 18 courses to earn them. Each course involved a minimum of 8 visits to the gardens so you can see that I have spent a lot of time there. If you are local, these courses are the absolute best plant education available.
Italian Water Garden, viewed while resting in the shade.
Because I have spent so much time at Longwood, I didn’t photograph the usual sights or even visit the fabulous four acre indoor conservatory (with one exception mentioned below). As a shade gardener I headed straight for Peirce’s Woods, which is seven acres devoted to shady plants native to the eastern U.S. deciduous forest. I hoped to augment my library of photographs and get some ideas of plants to sell at the nursery and add to my own gardens. I wasn’t disappointed.
The straight species of smooth hydrangea, H. arborescens, lined the very shady paths by the lake. I think it is more appropriate to a woodland garden than the cultivated forms like ‘Annabelle’.
Smooth hydrangea has a lovely flower whose size is in keeping with other native woodland plants.
While walking through Peirce’s Woods, I returned to the thoughts I have been having lately about groundcovers. This time of year, with the weeds running rampant, my customers are more interested in groundcovers. But it is clear from their questions that they mean plants that form runners to creep and cover the ground. The classic examples are vinca, ivy, and pachysandra. However, my definition of groundcover is much broader than this and includes any plant massed to effectively choke out weeds.
Native maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum
When you look at the masses of native maidenhair fern above, you are probably thinking that’s all very nice that Longwood uses masses of these fairly pricey, non-creeping plants as groundcover, but I could never afford that quantity of plants. However, think of the alternative: weeds and the hours if not days it takes to remove them, not to mention how their presence detracts from the look of your garden as well as your satisfaction with it. Your time is valuable, and you wouldn’t be reading my blog if the look of your garden wasn’t important to you.
Native semi-evergreen coralbells, Heuchera villosa, often sold as the cultivar ‘Autumn Bride’, has gorgeous white flowers in the fall.
Yes, you can use mulch to keep down the weeds. However, commercial shredded hardwood mulch is not attractive, is generally not produced sustainably, and requires a significant time investment to apply it. Most importantly, it requires a monetary outlay every year because it must be re-applied every spring. Perennial plants are initially more expensive to buy and plant but once they are there, you never have to do anything again. It is kind of like buying a compact fluorescent light bulb versus the bulbs we grew up with.
Here are some more plants that Longwood uses in masses to make effective groundcovers:
Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima
Native evergreen Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides
Native semi-evergreen coralbells, Heuchera villosa purple form.
Shredded umbrella-plant, Syneilesis aconitifolia: I can only dream of achieving this in my garden, and, yes, it is very expensive.
Native hay-scented fern, Dennstaedtia punctiloba, creeps to fill in large areas.
This bellflower, Campanula takesimana, was growing and apparently self-sowing in dense shade on the hillside near the Chimes Tower.
Fall-blooming yellow waxbells, Kirengoshoma palmata, is more like a shrub than a perennial but it dies to the ground ever year.
Native coralbells, Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’, is my favorite heuchera and retains its lovely color 365 days a year.
Giant butterbur, Petasites japonicus, grows in dense shade and covers a lot of ground.
Lavender mist meadow-rue, Thalictrum rochebrunianum
Native sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis, does creep.
Shrubs can be used as groundcover also, two examples from Longwood:
The straight species of oakleaf hydrangea, H. quecifolia, gets quite large and spreading.
Native southern bush honeysuckle, Diervilla sessifolia, suckers to form a colony.
Lastly, I want to show you why I briefly visited the conservatories: groundcover for walls, the new fern wall at Longwood. It is worth a visit just to see it:
This is a beautiful hallway containing individual restrooms, and the walls are totally covered in ferns.
Some of the ferns are quite large, and all are healthy and beautiful.
I hope I have convinced you to think outside the box and mass all kinds of unusual plants as groundcovers. You will have more time to enjoy a better looking garden and save money in the long run.
Nursery Happenings : This coming weekend we will have our final open hours at the nursery on Saturday, June 16, from 9 am to 2 pm, and Sunday, June 17, from 11 am to 1 pm . We close on June 17 until September. Customers on my email list will receive an email with details.
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Moisture and protection from the direct rays of the sun are the two prime requirements for growing ferns. This does not mean ferns will survive in soggy soil, they won’t it does not mean ferns will survive in total darkness, they won’t.
Plant ferns in rich, well-drained soil. As a general rule, ferns prefer a soil that is a mixture of equal parts leafmold, garden loam, coarse sand, and peat moss. If you don’t have peat moss use two parts well-rotted leafmold.
Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Ferns should sit in standing water standing water can turn the soil sour.
A slightly sloping site is ideal this will ensure drainage.
Surface cultivation is not desirable because ferns have fine roots close to the soil surface a thin covering of sand or leaf mulch will maintain moisture below the soil surface.
Northern exposure is optimal an eastern exposure is next best. A southern exposure should be avoided the sun exposure will be too intense. If planting in a southern exposure, construct a lath-house or trellis to provide shade.
A quick design note, as a rule, both for esthetic and horticultural reasons, it is best to keep flowers and ferns apart. They are two distinct types of beauty. Garden flowers seldom look good mixed with ferns.
Hare’s foot fern or Davallia
Hayscented Fern creeps by rhizomes to form a solid groundcover that few weeds can penetrate. Native to the northeastern U.S. and Appalachian Mountains, this fern is excellent for naturalizing along woodland edges that receive partial sun. …
|Soil Type||Clay, Loam, Sand|
|Soil Moisture||Dry, Medium|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun, Partial, Shade|
|Height||1' - 2'|
|Bloom Time||May, June, July, Aug|
|Spacing||18" - 2'|
|Zones||3, 4, 5, 6, 7|
Native plants can be grown outside of their native range in the appropriate growing conditions. This map shows the native range, as well as the introduced range, of this species.