November 1, 2021

By Kate and Len Lucas 

Ferns are one of the oldest groups of plants on earth. They have remained almost unchanged for millions of years. They might not produce the bright flowers that we gardeners are used to but they do have an amazing variety of frond shapes and just about every shade of green imaginable.

They are one of the few groups of plants that will grow in those dry shady spots where nothing else will. Our selection starts with two tree ferns which, if you want that ready-made jungle look, are very expensive if you go for a big one. 

We have grown tree ferns in the past and currently, we don’t have either however we do plan to change that for 2022. We will grow them in pots and take them in for the winter despite them often being described as “hardy”.

If you decide to read up about ferns, you will discover that they have suffered from lots of changes of name. That is because they reproduce by spores, not flowers. But don’t let that put you off, because they have a lot to offer.   

Dicksonia antarctica (soft tree fern) – This comes straight out of “Jurassic Park” as does the one below. The only thing you need to go with it is a dinosaur. We had one in a pot for years but lost it in a cold winter. 

Cyathea cooperi “Brentwood”(lacy tree fern) – We think this has to be the most elegant and sophisticated plant you could ever buy. This variety was bred in the USA and is claimed to be one of the hardiest, faster-growing tree ferns and nowhere near as expensive as Dicksonia.

Adiantum venustum (Himalayan maidenhair fern) – This is an outdoor hardy version of the indoor maidenhair fern, which you might have on your bathroom window sill. Quite low growing, not fussy and great for ground cover.

Asplenium scolopendrium (hart’s tongue fern) – Doesn’t look like a fern because it has flat fronds and is not at all frilly. Best out of the sun as it can scorch. 

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) – We have seen this sometimes referred to as the female fern. Very feathery and attractive in almost any setting, as long as it doesn’t dry out.               

Athyrium niponicum “Pictum” (Japanese painted fern) – And it does indeed look like it has been painted pink and silver – a fern like no other. We have a group in a sunny border but they do look better with a bit of shade. If you are buying ferns for the first time, choose this.

Athyrium “The Ghost” – This is a hybrid of the two above and has the best characteristics of both. This is Kate’s favourite fern and with good reason, it does have an ethereal look about it. Once you see one you will understand why it is called the ghost. 

Dryopteris felix-mas (male fern) – This is one of the commonest ferns found wild in the British Isles but is good enough to be given a place in anybody’s garden. It has the classical look.

Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich or shuttlecock fern) – This is a cracker. It really does look like an upturned shuttlecock. Best in shady damp ground with some room to spread. 

Polystichum setiferum (soft shield fern) – A very elegant and reliable evergreen fern. We have grown this for years and it comes back every time without fail.  

All of these should be available, with the possible exception of tree ferns, in any good garden centre.