With their elegant green, textural fronds, ferns are fantastic plants for adding a lushness to planting schemes, working particularly well in shady areas. They tend to fall into the following groups.
The Dryopteris genus, or woodland ferns, are handsome ferns, tolerant of dryish shade. Dryopteris erythrosora is an attractive fern with semi-evergreen lime green, bronze-tinged leaves, while Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’ has upright fresh green leaves for most of the year. For height, look out for Dryopteris wallichiana which has upright bright green fronds of up to 90cm high, while Dryopteris filix femina is another nice large fern. The fronds on these two tend to break up over winter, but cutting them back will reveal fresh green growth for spring.
Polystichum ferns have more intricate fronds. Polystichum setiferum is a useful and attractive evergreen fern that grows to around a metre high and is able to tolerate some sun. P. ‘Herrenhausen’ is slightly more delicate and lower growing. P. braunnii has lovely bright green leaves, while Polystichum munitum is a tall upright fern that will make a statement throughout the year and grow in sun or shade.
For more glossy texture, Asplenium scolopendrium, or hart’s tongue ferns, are useful evergreen ferns with large leathery leaves. These are happiest in deep shade.
Polypodium vulgare is a tough little fern with shiny mid green leaves. A native of Britain, it tolerates most conditions, moist or dry, sun or shade and looks good colonising under deciduous trees. For something smaller still, try Blechnum spicant.
At the other end of the spectrum, Osmunda regalis is a giant (2m) fern with bright green fronds in spring – it likes moisture so would be ideal in a bog garden. Finally, Dicksonia Antarctica, or tree fern, is great to add drama or a bit of exotic to your garden – but tends to need some winter protection.
Ferns look wonderful en masse with other shade-tolerant perennials such as white astrantia, eurybia and anemones, creating a lush woodland feel. They also look when mixed up together so that you get a variety of different leaves.