Cultivating Ferns

Ferns today are the garden's graceful greenery. They are flowerless plants, reproducing by spores (which incidentally do not cause hay fever) rather than seeds. (The asparagus fern with its little white flowers and red berries is actually a member of the lily family.) So we grow them for their elegant foliage of varying heights, shapes, and textures with an ornamental foliar structure that varies from the simple strap-shaped fronds of the Hart's tongue fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium) to the plumose froth of the finely divided British Polystichum setiferum cultivars. While newly planted ferns must be kept moist, established ferns are a low-maintenance delight and, despite their delicate appearance, are tough. Look for rhododendrons to curl and the grass to brown before your ferns will signal trouble. They bring as their gift to the garden the serenity of forest woodlands, peace in a shady nook, and the ability to give a unifying green calm to a colorful garden palette.

There are ferns for every landscape situation from the solitary pot on a patio to an aggressor for romping through an abandoned meadow. Choose from diminutive charmers, evergreen and deciduous, through those of intermediate heights to the dominant special effects of several of the Goliath dryopteris and woodwardias (or for warmer climates the tree ferns).

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