Category Archives: Garden Design

thoughts on garden design

containers 2018… the after shots

Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red ‘picking up with the flower production now that the temps are a bit cooler.

The summer of 2018 presented many challenges to gardeners here in the northeast. Some folks had mind-numbing amounts of rainfall. We had the heat and HUMIDITY but missed most of the storms until September, when we began to catch up with the precipitation….a good thing for the trees and shrubs,  but after a summer of high humidity, the succulents which s often end with a grand tra-la, began to falter.  On the other hand, containers that loved tropical conditions thrived, and I wish I had planted more.

I present to you the before and after pictures:

Brown terra cotta bowl, June and then October…a number of succulents like the yellow and copper Sedum melted with the humidity and late season wetness.

The turquoise jar held up admirably, with Echeveria ‘Afterglow’. The after picture was taken in mid-September.

We never caught them in action, but think some birds decided to have a go at pecking on the succulents’ foliage and breaking off strands from the Rhipsalis which trails over this gray cylinder pot.

Still looking as good as it did in June, this urn with Beschorneria and tender succulents put on a little more growth.

Shade Pot 1. The white form of Begonia boliviensis continues to send our flowers with the Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern and trailing Alternanthera ‘Gails Choice’ is still holding up well in early October.

Time of day and time of year affect lighting so much. This was a fairly successful shade planter with Begonia ‘Concorde’ filling in nicely, and the golden-leaved piggyback plant Tolmeia ‘Cool Gold’ adding color contrast. The Maidenhair fern fronds had a tendency to brown out.

Happy happy tropicals such as the dark red Caladium and Black Elephant Ears aren’t ready to quit. Trailing over the pot is variegated Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon)

 

How did your containers perform this season?  Did you try a combination that worked well all summer and is still showing off now?

Vernonia x ‘Southern Cross’

Do you have room in your garden for a late summer/early fall blooming perennial that attracts butterflies galore? This Ironweed has dreamy clouds of composite purple flower clusters on sturdy stems 3-4’ tall beginning in August and its handsome narrow foliage looks fresh all season long. Discovered by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials, ‘Southern Cross’ obviously has the species lettermannii in its heritage. This selection combines beautifully with ornamental grasses such as Sorghastrum, Schizachyrium and Eragrostis.

‘Southern Cross’ appears to like extra moisture the first season but becomes more drought tolerant once it is established. Plants are hardy in zones 4-8 and should be deer resistant.

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Containers 2018…the before shots

May I present to you the “before” shots of our 2018 containers? My goal each year is to create easy care combinations, showcasing some unique specimens, which will continue to look gorgeous right up until frost. Since I love succulents, and they are so super easy, drought tolerant, and look outrageous into the fall, you’ll notice more than a  few combinations.  Above is a 28” wide brown terra cotta bowl with a succulent array , including Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’, Senecio cylindricus, Senecio Mini Blue, Sedum “Firestorm’, Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’, Sedum pachyphytum, and a peach flowering painted Echeveria hybrid. This container and the next were planted on Memorial Day, and have already knit together nicely.  Many of the other planters were put together this past week.

The tall cylinder pot has a 24” opening and stands 44” tall. It showcases a few really choice succulents that I’ve been growing on for several years. The ingredients in this planter are: Aeonium urbicum, Senecio barbertonicus, Euphorbia turicalli, Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’Echeveria’ and ‘Hummel’s Sunset’, plus Echeveria ’Chocolate Prince’ and ‘Blue Prince’, Sedum ‘Firestorm’ and trailing over the side is Rice Plant, Rhipsalis teres v. capilliformis.a closeup of the forms and textures.

This 8” terra-cotta pot ensemble picks us some of the colors in the other planters. We’re enjoying this unknown Echeveria pulidonis hybrid with erect stems bearing peach colored flowers, and the flower color is fun with the golden Sedum adolphii and the tiny creeper Sedum album ‘Athoum’.

We’ve been growing on these false agave ‘Beschorneria ‘Pink Flamingo’ plants for several years now and they are quite impressive in size. Underplantings include Echeveria agavoides, Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’ and ‘String of Pearls’ Senecio rowleyensis. The iron urns are about 15″ across and are in an area which gets half day sun.

A client who lives by the sea brought in these cast stone rectangles and wanted a planting that is easy to care for and that could tolerate lots of wind and sun. We’re glad she likes these sea and sky colored succulents.

To have interesting shade planters, you really do need to seek out unique foliage plants. Here I’ve used Phlebodium pseudoaureum (Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern) with the white form of Begonia boliviensis and purple trailing  Alternanthera ‘Gails Choice’ plus the mini spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum ‘Bonnie’ which will eventually cascade down this urn as well.

Another shade container, planted once again with Maidenhair Fern Adiantum pedatum, plus Begonia ‘Concorde’ adds dark foliage contrast and pink flowers, and the new trailing perennial piggyback plant, Tolmeia menziesii ‘Cool Gold’. This container has an 18” opening and gets dappled light.

In a dark corner, and paired with a yellow orchid, chartreuse colored Hosta ‘Designer Genes’ is the focal point, its wine red petioles adding contrast. I like the way the rising flower stock has an interesting foliar accent.  Ming Fern,  Asparagus macawonii, is used to give an airy feel, and golden Piggyback Plant will spill over the sides of the pot. 

Imperial Blue Plumbago is a gorgeous color that is sometimes hard to play with. To be on the safe side, it’s paired with white Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and the chartreuse form of licorice plant, Helichrysum ‘Limelight’.

Coprosma ‘Pink Splendor’ is a tender evergreen shrub with pastel variegation. Here it is paired with chenille plant, Acalypha pendula and a trailing flowering maple, Abutilon megapotamicum, in a 10” wide tall tom pot. This container would enjoy a spot in full sun or part day shade.

White Begonia boliviensis steals the show in this 15” terra cotta rolled rim pot, but this container wouldn’t be as much fun without Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and the teal/silver trailer Pilea glauca. Phormium ‘Sundowner’ adds a vertical thrust. For sun or part shade.

This impressive 38” zen cast stone bowl has always been planted with succulents, due to it’s shallow depth and ease of care (it’s in a spot a distance away from a water source). The problem is, this area has become more and more shady, (only about 3-4 hours of good sunlight). This selection of succulents is thought to be more tolerate of some shade….we’ll see how they fared at summer’s end.

Peachy-pink and lime green Phormium ‘Jester’ adds the vertical in this succulent combo, which includes  a golden leaved Portulacaria we found at The Ruth Bancroft Garden a few years ago, plus ‘Echeveria ‘Blue Prince’, Crassula ‘Hummell’s Sunset’, Sedum ‘Limeglow’ and  Sedeveria ‘Blue Elf’ and Sedeveria ‘Jetbeads.

The color of this 18” ceramic container reminds me of the ocean on a clear sunny day. Succulents contribute to that under the sea feeling….the large growing Echeveria ‘Afterglow’, with the tall Senecio cylindricus, Pachyphytum ‘Blue Haze’ , Crassula ovata undulata, and a mystery x Graptosedum hybrid.

I’ll be taking photos again of these containers in late September and we can compare these early shots with “After Pics”. Stay posted.

 

Papyrus Ensemble for Part Shade

Looking to do something a bit dramatic but very easy care in a partially shaded container? This container ensemble, planted in an 18″ wide pot,  features the compact growing Papyrus, ‘Prince Tut’, standing  30-40″ tall, as well as a dwarf variegated form Cyperus albostriatus variegatus ,  trailing Callisia congestifolia variegata and Ornamental Oregano, Origanum rotundifolum ‘Kent Beauty’. The Oregano will come forth into bloom early, and then allow the Callisia to take over in an exuberant way.

Average soil mix is fine here. Although Papyrus will grow in standing water, they adapt quite well to not wet conditions. The Callisia may began to overwhelm her neighbors, but a quick trip here and there will keep her in check.

Buy as an ensemble online.

Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’

Shrubs and trees which flower on old wood, just before the leaves unfurl, have a special charm. Think Witchhazel, Native Dogwood, Redbud. One that we especially love and isn’t so well known is Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’. This shrub bears pendant racemes of creamy white/yellow flowers in early spring (April for us). We have ‘Celina’ planted in a sheltered spot  from winter winds, which can desiccate the flower buds. This area is shaded by a Japanese Maple and gets 4-6 hours of sun. Our 7 year old plant is about 4′ tall with arching branches from the base, reaching to about 6′ in width. We expect it will grow to 8′ x 10′ eventually. Fall color varies year to year, but we’ve seen it take on yellow and orange tones. hardy in zones 6-9.

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The Best Underutilized Plants 

Acanthus hungaricus

As a garden designer and nurserywoman, I am always scouting for uncommon plants that have a long season of interest and are not fussy about care. And when I say “long season of interest”, I mean plants which have a bloom period of 6 weeks or more, or have outstanding foliage for much of the growing season. If these plants are deer resistant and attract pollinators and butterflies, they score even higher.

I offer these exceptional underutilized plants for your consideration.

Acanthus hungaricus  Bear’s Breeches. Hardier for me than the better known Acanthus mollis, this selection has thrived near our stone wall in hot full sun and well drained soil (that’s your tip!) for 20 years. In early summer, stunning 3’ spires of two toned white and lavender flowers erupt and carry a show into August. Its big and bold dark green foliage is thought to be the inspiration for the design on Corinthian columns. Plants spread where happy, and I have found the foliage is a perfect foil for dying bulb foliage. Zones 6-9.

Calamintha nepeta

Calamintha nepeta ssp nepeta  Calamint. This remarkable long blooming sun loving shrubby mint is one of my all-time favorite perennials, yet it is still not widely grown. Plants form tidy mounds (read: do not run!) of rounded mint scented foliage in the spring, and begin to send forth many stems bearing tiny white flowers from mid July through September here in New England. C. nepeta ssp nepeta has faithfully performed for us for over 20 years, regardless of whether summer weather is hot, dry, cool or moist. We have never had this selection self-sow in our garden. If you are fluent in Greek, you might note that its generic name translates to beautiful mint.  Zones 5-7.

Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’

Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’  As much as I am wowed by voluptuous blossoms, I like to champion the strong garden performers which have quieter charm. One plant whose charm seldom disappoints is an Asian Aster relative called Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’. This little number grows 15-18″ tall and 18-24″ wide, and begins its production of 1 1/2″ lavender blue daisies in June, carrying on into autumn (I kid you not.) ‘Blue Star’ forms tidy clumps; it does not run, unlike some of its relatives. Grow in full sun in zones 5-9.

Ruta g. ‘Jackman’s Blue’

Ruta graveolens ‘Jackman’s Blue’  A desirable and durable Rue, once relegated to the herb garden, but deserving a more prominent spot in the landscape.  ‘Jackman’s  Blue’ has a tidy growth habit with the prettiest aromatic blue gray pinnate foliage providing a decidedly  lacy effect. In late summer citron yellow flowers appear on stems just above the foliage which attract a myriad of butterflies and pollinators. Interestingly, I see ‘Jackman’s Blue’  featured  regularly in British garden periodicals. With a hardiness arrange of USDA zones 4-9,  there’s no reason not to use this plant more prominently here in the states. Grow Rue in a sunny spot in well drained soil. Yes, it is deer resistant.

Athyrium otophorum

Athyrium otophorum There are so many great ferns! Here’s one you should know about. Eared Lady Fern impressed us so much last year, we are still gushing about it. Easy to grow in average to moist soil (provide supplemental watering in dry spells to encourage fresh new frond production), this Athyrium put on nice growth in one season and stood out for it’s limey green fronds with deeper wine markings . Plants grow 15-24″ tall and wide, and are hardy in zones 5-9.

Brunnera ‘Diane’s Gold’

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Diane’s Gold’  Siberian Bugloss. Yellow foliage plants are so valuable in the shade garden for their consistent golden glow. In the short time I’ve grown ‘Diane’s Gold’, I have been impressed how quickly she established  after planting and thrived in a dappled shade bed. Although her  floral display of sprays of tiny sky blue flowers is most effective in late April and May,  ‘Diane’s Gold’  was still sending out an occasional flowering stem in July and August.  Foliage clumps stay under 12” tall but can easily grow 18-24” wide. Zones 4-9.

Disporum flavens

Disporum flavens  So easy, so stunning, so under planted…the sight of Korean Fairy Bells in the early spring garden always makes me smile. Sturdy shoots which resemble Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum) emerge in April and extend to 2’, with canary yellow pendant blossoms in small clusters at the stem tips.  Disporum spread slowly by rhizomes and it may take a few years to form impressive clumps, but are long lived and deer resistant. Grow in part shade. Zones 4-9.

Peucedanum ‘Daphnis’

Peucedanum ostruthium ‘Daphnis’  Greater Masterwort. Upon first glance you might think what a refined Goutweed this is, but upon additional study you might notice that the foliage is larger and has more substance, with an attractive creamy yellow to white  variegation.  Plants do spread by rhizomes, but I would not call this invasive.  In early summer, 15-20” stems bear white umbels resembling Queen Anne’s Lace. I always cut back the flowers as they fade, as this encourages new foliage growth.  Grow in part shade.  Zones 5-9.

Clematis ‘Paul Farges’

Clematis fargesii ‘Paul Farges’ . Most gardeners are drawn to the big flowered Clematis hybrids, which tend to sulk after planting until their roots are well anchored. I appreciate a Clematis that doesn’t need coddling and ‘Paul Farges’ never asks for a fuss.  1.5-2” white blooms resemble a larger form of Autumn Clematis, but bloom time is June-August.   Flowers are born on both new and old an old wood (Group 2 in the Clematis books), so if you want to control its vigor, cut plants back to 12” in the spring. If left unrestrained, ‘Paul Farges’ will easily extend 15-20’. Use him over stone walls, fences, or to cover a pergola as well as scramble up a medium size shrub or small tree. ‘Paul Farges’ is hardy in zones 5-9 and is deer resistant.

Eleutherococcus sieboldianus vareigatus

Eleutherococcus sieboldianus ‘Variegatus’ (aka Acanthopanax sieboldiana variegata) Five Leaf Aralia.  As a nurserywoman, I always cringe a little when  plant names change…new gardeners become confused and long time gardeners have trouble finding  the plant listed under its old name. (And may I complain about genus names with more than 5 syllables?)

If you can get past the pronunciation, you will discover that this is one tough shrub for almost any situation with average to dry soil:  sun, partial or deep shade.  Eleuthorococus sieboldianus ‘Variegatus’  has quite showy  white edged palmate leaves on arching branches which can really illuminate a shady corner. Flowers  are produced in spring but they are inconspicuous. Take note that it does have thorns, which help to deter unwelcome creatures, like deer.  Plants can grow 6-8’ tall and wide rather quickly.

Clethra barbinervis

Clethra barbinervis  Japanese Clethra is waiting to be discovered. Yes, our native Clethra alnifolia, also known as Summersweet, is a great plant but this Asian species has a few extras going for it.  C. barbinervis is a plant for all seasons, boasting fragrant mid summer blossoms, yellow-orange-bronze fall color, plus exfoliating bark in winter. If left unpruned, C. barbinervis will grow as a multistemmed shrub, but I prefer to see it trained as a small tree with single or 2-3 leaders, with lower limbs removed, so that the showy bark can be better appreciated.

Flowers form in July, bearing twisting 4-6” racemes of sweetly scented white flowers, which drip from the branches into mid August. It prefers a well-drained, neutral or slightly acidic soil with adequate moisture and can grow 15-20’ tall in zones 5-8. Clethra barbinervis grows well in dappled shade, although it will tolerate and bloom abundantly in full sun, if watering needs are met.

Are you growing any of these plants in your gardens?

End of the Season Containers

It’s been over 3 months since I posted the “Before” Container Shots. We’re now into October, and luckily the weather has been mild, with a few chilly nights. All in all, the containers depicted in the early summer post are looking as good if not better.  My goal each year is to come up with combos that are easy care and will look fabulous until frost.  Here are this year’s end of the season shots.zenbowl_detailazen_bowlt_9302017oct72Succulents rule! The Aeonium noticeably is more green than bronzy, and  this space where the 36″ Zen Bowl is located is getting more and more shade…perhaps now only getting 3-4 hours of afternoon sun…it’s getting limited for succulents. I think we’ll have to reconsider what type of plants to use here next year.aaeoniumpot_9302017_72The Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ in the drum pot, with Sedeveria ‘Harry Butterfield’ and String of Pearls spilling over the sides, is still looking pretty awesome. I will be sad when we have to dismantle this container.cylinderpot2017The Cylinder Pot in front of the garage is pretty much doing a repeat performance of last year. The big Kalanchoe beharensis started to overwhelm his neighbors, and was trimmed back several times.white_pots17_72The larger white pot with Cuphea ‘David Verity’, Digiplexis ‘Illumination’ and Ruellia b. ‘Purple Showers’ needed watering attention, but is still blooming away. Not missing a step,  the smaller pot continues to look good with Heuchera ‘Cherry Cola’, Phormium and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’.xgreekurnThe Grecian Urn on the pedestal was one of the shade ensembles, with Begonia ‘Art Hodes’, Cyperus ‘Starburst‘, Oxalis, and Callisia congesta variegata, which needed to be cut back more than once. I know, I know, I put way too many ingredients in this pot.silverfernpot17_72Here’s another shade planter, mixing hardy and tender plants. Maidenhair Fern, Black Mondo Grass and hardy Begonia grandis, are paired with tender Sansevieria ‘Moonshine’ and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’. This planter was in dappled shade all day, and notice how well the Dichondra grew!
papyrus (1 of 1)Papyrus + Papyrus  + Callisia = … To begin with, I selected too small a pot in June, so what did I do?  In mid summer, I lifted the plants that had filled the pot and moved them into a much bigger container. When the Ornamental Oregano had done her thing, then the Callisia was very happy to take over the pot.ironurn17 (1 of 1)One of the iron urns is getting more shade than in previous years… probably just 4 hours of good sun, and then it’s in dappled light. Here is what it looks like now… the Beschorneria and Golden Ivy seem happy still.whitebegonia_72Someone bought the head pot…so I can’t show how it fared, but instead here is another shady planter. Never took the “before” picture, but I thought this green trough was successful. The white form of Begonia boliviensis seemed happier this year than in the past, and is paired with trailing Pilea glauca, Pilea microphylla variegata, Ornamental Oregano, and  Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern, which is now pretty much hidden.brownterrabowl17 (1 of 1)Last but not least, the brown terra cotta bowl wants to show off even more now that it is autumn. Assorted succulent foliage looked great all summer. Now, in October, the  Euphorbia tirucalli (Sticks on Fire) is beginning to deepen in color and Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, bursting forth with orange red blossoms, is ending the season with a bang.

What easy care combinations worked best for you this summer? Have you been using succulents in your container plantings?

Generous Fall Asters

Symphyotrichum (Aster) ‘Vasterival’

Some might consider the term “generous” a euphemism for invasive…but I have my own take on certain vigorous spreaders and self sowers. I say, sometimes a plant with ground covering capabilities is a good thing…it won’t be long before you have a nice swath of color plus the plant’s vigor keeps weeds at bay. Here are 5 Asters that command attention and are easy peasy.

( A little botany note: The taxonomists have reclassified Aster  into several distinct genera in recent years. For example, the genus Aster encompasses species that are specific to Eastern Asia, while the term Symphyotricum includes Asters native to N. America and parts of Europe.)

One plant that really draws comments in our September garden is  Symphyotrichum x ‘Vasterival’, a hybrid of unknown origins. 3/4″ daisies in a  sweet shade of pink/lavender are born in loose sprays on tall dark tinted stems. You could  pinch plants back in early July to control height, or let them do  their thing, and have stems that can reach 5′. ‘Vasterival’ is a perfect plant for that “garden gone wild” look. Plants spread by stoloniferous roots.

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Symphyotrichum x ‘Mary’s White’

Another Symphyotrichum selection that has proven quite vigorous is ‘Mary’s White’, which was selected by British nurserywoman Beth Chatto and named for her daughter. 1″ white daisies are carried on sturdy 3-4′ stems during September into early October.

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Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Muraskai’

The Asian Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ is the boss in a bed where we once had  plants with meek dispositions. We  let ‘Ezo Murasaki’ fulfill its ground covering mission, and moved its less vigorous neighbors. Yellow centered violet 1″ daisies are born in  clusters on 18″ stems from late September into November.

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Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’

Some Asters self sow nicely.  Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’, commonly called Smooth Aster, is one we allow to seed about and establish informally in beds where a little autumn color will be welcomed. Quarter sized flowers have lavender blue petals with yellow centers open up in stages in loose sprays. ‘Bluebird’ grows 3-4′ tall, but bows gracefully around its neighbors.

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Symphyotrichum ericoides with Elscholtzia and Kolwitzia

Another promiscuous seeder is the Calico Aster Symphyotrichum ericoides. Height can vary, but most often  plants are in the 18-24″ range. Don’t you think this Aster picked the best spot to establish itself, here between the Chinese Mint Shrub, Elscholtzia stantonii alba, on the left, and the golden leaved Kolwitzia on the right?

 

Tips for Fall Containers

Black Mondo Grass with hardy succulents

Are your summer planters in need of a fall makeover?  Are you thinking you would rather invest in perennials than toss away non hardy plants at season’s end? There are many fall-flavored hardy plants which will provide you with texture, form and long lasting colorful foliage. Plants to consider include Ornamental Grasses, Ophiopogon, Hardy Succulents, Heuchera, Euphorbias, Ivies, Dwarf Evergreens, to name a few.

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Heuchera ‘Caramel’ with Orange Sedge, Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow, and Purple Tradescantia

  • Here are a few tips.
  • 1. To achieve a fuller affect, use more plants than you would in the spring or summer.  We don’t want to think about this now, but the days have been getting shorter, nights cooler, and plant growth is slowing down or ceasing.
  • 2. Select plants that have a variety of tones that will contrast and set off each other, (think amber Heuchera and black Ophiopogon).
  • 3. Remember a pot of mums looks fresh for 3-4 weeks at most, then the show is over. Showy foliage will carry on and on.
  • 4. Note that the fall foliage on evergreen Sempervivum (hens and chicks), Sedum ‘Angelina’, and Sedum album cultivars change and develop more dramatic color once the temperatures stay cool.
  • 5. If you must have flower power, consider long and late blooming Salvia, Cuphea, or fall pansies.
  • 6. When a night time temperature drop is forecasted, have light blankets, large pots or even an empty trash barrel handy to cover your container and protect the plantings from frost.
  • 7. As November passes, he time will come to  disassemble your planter. Tuck your hardy plants in a nursery bed or empty space in your vegetable garden plot to hold them over until next spring.
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Cuphea ‘David Verity’ with Heuchera ‘Champagne’ and Oxalis

Fern Crazy

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A stand of hay scented fern, Dennstaetdtia punctilobula

Talk about being survivors…ferns are one of the oldest group of plants on the planet, dating back 3 million years. Despite their adaptive capabilities, they are still one of the most overlooked perennials. Alas, gardeners are easily distracted by blossoms, small or huge, subtle or bold, and forget about the steadfast display of handsome foliage.

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the lovely Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum

Consider these reasons why you should make room for more ferns . 1. They are the ultimate foliage plant. 2. Ferns are plants that don’t mind benign neglect. 3. They look gorgeous unfurling with new growth in early spring and provide a refreshing, deer resistant oasis in the shade all summer long. 4. Some ferns turn colors of bronze or gold in the fall before they are knocked down by frost while others provide a persistent green though the winter. 5. There are ferns for various soil conditions… yes, some tolerate drier soils although most appreciate some amount of moisture. Learn which ones will thrive in your soil conditions and you’ll have few problems.

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Ferns 101. Some basic fern terminology. When reading descriptions you may get confused by the botanical terms, so here are the basics:

Ferns erupt as fiddleheads or croziers from rhizomes, which is the name given to the fleshy underground stem.  Foliage either ascends from the rhizome (Dryopteris, Polystichum ) or creeps from this underground stem (Adiantum, Dennstaedtia).

The frond refers to the entire leaf structure including the stipe (the leaf stalk or petiole which rises from the rhizome)  and the blade which includes the pinna (leaflets) that are patterned along on either sides the rachis (upper stem ). Each pinna has its own rachis. Some of the pinna are very simple (undivided) and some are divided in multiple segments or pinnules.

Athyrium x 'Ghost'

Athyrium x ‘Ghost’

The most commonly cultivated ferns are in the genera Adiantum, Athyrium, Dryopteris and Polystichum. A stand of Maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum when provided with a moisture retentive soil is a vision to behold all summer. Its delicate green leaflets are set off by almost black stems. I am trying it in a shady container this season.

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A fancy selection of Japanese panted fErn, Athyrium niponicum pictum ‘Applecourt’

Athyrium is a huge genus with over 180 species and hybrids, including the cultivar ‘Applecourt’, pictured above.  Many are familiar with the Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium niponicum pictum. Although it can be forgiving of drier soil, an even source of moisture  will provide a steady supply of new fronds all summer providing a more luxurious show. The selection ‘Regal Red’ has an especially striking red color contrast, ‘Pearly White’ adds a silver glow to the shade garden, and ‘Godzilla’, a new hybrid, is reported to reach epic proportions, growing to 3’ tall and up to 6’ across in the right conditions.

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This is the first year we are growing Athyrium otophorum, aka Eared Lady Fern, and I am delighted with how well it is doing. A continuous succession of lime green fronds with contrasting burgundy stipes have added a freshness to the garden, and she looks great near golden leaved plants. I would be neglectful not to mention the hybrid Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (a cross between lady fern, A. flelix-femina and painted fern A. niponicum pictum). This fern is a true garden survivor, standing 2’ tall and holding its own next to a vigorous Hosta ‘Komodo Dragon’ .

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Dixie Wood Fern, Dryopteris x australis

Dryopteris, or Wood Fern, generally enjoys a moist rich soil, but I have grown D. erythrosora (Autumn Fern) in average to dry conditions and it hasn’t disappointed. D. erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ provides a bronzy copper color with its new emerging foliage.  D. x australis aka Dixie Wood Fern can grow to an impressive 4-5’ tall but needs consistent moisture to achieve that stature. Dryopteris tokyoensis, another fern that is very easy to keep happy, produces erect fronds 2-3’ , forming a lovely vase shape.

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Japanese Tassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum

Many species in the genus Polystichum have leathery leaves and tend to be evergreen. P. acrostichoides, commonly called Christmas Fern sends forth 1-2’ arching forest green fronds from multiple crowns. Another unfussy fern, tolerating dryish soil although it would love to unfurl in rich moist loam is P. polyblepherum  aka Japanese Tassel Fern. It boasts lustrous dark green 1-2’ arching evergreen fronds. Korean Rock Fern, P. tsus-simense is a diminutive semi-evergreen species for rocky crevices, and it tolerates drier soil that has been amended with rich humus.

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Don’t have any room for ferns in your shade bed? Why not try them in shady planters? Last year’s hit was Autumn Fern with Heuchera and Black Mondo Grass. Above is a just planted shot of a cast stone urn with Maidenhair Fern, Begonia grandis and silvery Sansevieria and Dichondra, as seen above.

If you are interested to discover more, let me direct you to a few resources: The American Fern Society, as well as my bible for ferns, John Mickel’s Ferns for American Gardens .  A handy pocket guide for casual identifying is the Peterson Field Guide: Ferns. 

Here is our current fern listing. Have any suggestions on special ferns to try?