One of my favorite ways to add visual interest into a landscape is through texture, and one of my favorite ways to add texture to shade gardens is through the use of ferns. I adore them because they give off a delicate, frilly vibe. The above photo was taken in a cemetery in Salzburg, Austria. In fact it’s you can see part of the cemetery in The Sound of Music, right when the Von Trapp family is hiding in the convent. It’s a beautiful, old cemetery and these two ferns were planted right near the headstone and a breathtaking wrought iron fence. We got there a few hours after a massive rain storm so everything was all fresh and green. I was captivated by the contrast between the springy green fronds against that of the darker arborvitae behind them. I ended up taking way too many pictures than is appropriate for a cemetery. but I couldn’t help myself. So I ignored the strange looks from all the other tourists as I sat there snapping pictures of plants in a cemetery.
I’ve been working on the planting bed plans for my own backyard, and I’ve been planning for what I hope will someday be my shade garden. I keep asking myself how I could purchase a beautiful 70 year old home and not inherit one big tree. So although I don’t have shade at the moment I’m waiting patiently until I can plant my shade garden, and these four ferns are right at the top of my list.
Brilliance Autumn Fern
Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’
Autumn Ferns are a great addition because in addition to texture, they bring a pop of color interest to shady spaces. New fronds uncurl into beautiful red, which slowly fades to orange, and finally green. They create an impact when planted in clusters, or just add splashes of color if planted on their own.
Who wouldn’t want to own on Ostrich Fern based on the name alone? These tend to have a more upright growth habit and they can grow up to 4 feet tall. Planting them towards the back of a bed makes them a nice backdrop for other shade perennials. Or simply pairing them with a low growing ground cover creates interest as the eye is drawn up the almost columnar bright green fronds.
If the Autumn Fern is a pop of color for shade beds then the Ghost Fern can be considered an explosion. The beautiful blue-purple fronds give an almost frosty appearance. Since this fern is a little shorter than the others, planting it towards the front of a bed will ensure that it gets the attention it deserves.
Golden Male Fern
I saved one of my absolute favorites for last. The Male Fern to me is the perfect classic fern. With a slightly spreading and very full habit, it’s the perfect plant for filling in shady spaces. My mom has a few of these planted in her almost permanently shaded garden. She paired them with sweet woodruff ground cover and the contrast is just fantastic.
So there you have it. Four of the best ferns for adding texture and interest to spice up a shady garden bed. Pairing these with bleeding hearts, heuchera, brunnera, or ground covers like sweet woodruff or bishops weed will ensure that a shade garden is a worthy competitor with full sun blooming favorites.