When it comes to gardening, I’m not sure if I’m a slow learner, or simply a garden optimist. I have a yard with lots of shade and I tended to ignore that pesky detail when I picked my plants for the season. The happy, bright flowers at the nursery turned into sad pouting plants in the company of my magnolia and Japanese maples. Over the years I changed my approach and embraced the shade instead of fighting it, and now my shade gardens are the favorite parts of my yard.
My new obsession is fern gardens. Ever since I was little I’ve always loved the shape and texture of ferns, and the seemingly effortless way they would spread on the forest floor. My initial efforts to duplicate that look at home fell flat, as I didn’t have the time or patience to keep the moisture level where it should be during the hot Virginia summers. That changed when I quit fighting nature and started using ferns that were hardy as well as beautiful. Here are a few perennial suggestions, they won’t disappoint.
Autumn ferns are frilly and low growing, and are one of the most low maintenance and elegant ferns available. They thrive in partial or full shade, are drought tolerant, and make a great accent plant or groundcover due to their spreading manner. Technically not an evergreen fern, it holds up well in the winter unless it’s flattened by heavy snow.
Tassel ferns are dark green and native to Japan and Korea. They have an elegant appearance, and when new fronds develop, they drop back to form a tassel. A true evergreen fern, they make a great addition to your landscape, even in winter. They mature to two feet by two feet, and look great mixed in front of a stand of autumn ferns. While hardy, they are less drought tolerant and do not do well in direct sun.
Japanese painted ferns are a lovely smaller variety with a frosted grey-green appearance with triangular fronds crisscrossed with magenta veins. When given light shade and rich, slightly acidic soil, they thrive. They are beautiful planted in mass, and add interest when planted with other shade perennials.
If you are looking for some other low fuss, high impact shade plants to mix in with your ferns, here are a few that have done well in my garden (which says something.)
Hellebore or Lenten Roses are evergreen, hardy, easy to grow, and bloom in the winter. What more could you want?
Fatcia or Japanese spider web plant is a rare evergreen with white splashings that loves deep shade. It grows slowly, but reaches a height of 4-5 feet and spreads 3-4 feet wide. It’s a striking plant that flowers in the fall and produces bright black berries. It’s low maintenance and a striking beauty.