Latest Trend in Garden Design: Ferns

The wonderful texture of ferns

The complex, divided texture of ferns

Pinterest is a wonderful tool for those of us that love beautiful, visual images.  And if you use it as much as I do, it is good for spotting trends in garden design.  I regularly review it to seek out patterns and whilst it doesn’t tell us everything, my boards have about 20,000 views a month; a pretty good sample size.

This month it seems to be all about ferns.  Four of my five most ‘re-pinned’ pictures all feature ferns of one kind or another; quite a change from this time last year when there was just one.

Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

Dappled light on finely divided foliage

So which ferns are the best and how do we use them?  

Here are my three favourite ferns for Sydney:

Blechnum ‘Silver Lady’

Silver Lady is a wonderful, architectural fern with extremely neat, upright fronds and perfect symmetry.  It brings strong form and texture to a shady spot and is more drought hardy than many ferns.  I have it in a pot by my front door – I know I shouldn’t have plants that like moisture in a pot but it looks so gorgeous there and survived three weeks whilst we were away this winter so it definitely earns it spot.

Blechnum 'Silver Lady' fern

Blechnum ‘Silver Lady’ fern

Asplenium ‘Bird’s Nest’

Bird’s Nest fern is quite different with wide, shiny, undivided fronds.  However, the shape or form is similar and combined they are the perfect mix of fit and contrast.  Bird’s Nest fern is epiphytic, meaning that it collects nutrients (fallen leaf matter) and water from above, holds it in the crown and can live in the nooks of trees without any soil to speak of.  There are also some spectacular cultivars available with twists and curls and stunning shaped leaves.

The Bird's Nest fern collects leaves in its crown which it gains nutrients from as they decompose. Here against a neat, Buxus hedge

The Bird’s Nest fern collects leaves in its crown, from which it gains nutrients as they decompose. Here against a neat, Buxus hedge

Nephrolepsis (Fishtail Fern)

When I first arrived in Sydney I immediately ripped out all fishtail ferns in sight.  They were a horrible, tatty weed and certainly not for my garden.  Fortunately, whilst most were gone forever, a few grew back in the crevices between the fence and surface sandstone.  In my haste to be rid of them I hadn’t fully appreciated that there were parts of my garden where virtually nothing would grow and I now love these ferns for greening up otherwise ugly, barrens spots.  If you keep it well under control it is a wonderfully useful, textural fern.

In a small area where the underlying sandstone rock comes to the ground surface fishtail ferns will survive in virtually no soil

In a small area where the underlying sandstone rock comes to the ground surface fishtail ferns will survive in virtually no soil

COMBINING FERNS IN THE GARDEN

In my eyes it is hard to beat the divided fern, large-leaved hosta and vertical-accented, flowering iris as a planting trio.  It is lush, strong, it has amazing contrasting textures and yet the colour and size of the plants unify them perfectly.  However, this is not a planting combination for a dry country.

In dry subtropical Sydney, bromeliads, gingers, crinums and philodendrons are all wonderful bedding mates for ferns.  All like dappled shade and all can cope with some periods of drought (although if you don’t want to supplement rainfall at all, ferns are not for you in most of Australia).  If you want to add more colour, Clivia and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ are good choices for long seasonal flowering.  Plant the ferns, with the strongest need for water, away from tree roots and leave the hardier, complementary plants to tough it out closer to the trunk.

Stunning contrasts of two shade loving plants - the delicate, divided fern foliage with strong, bold Philodendron

Stunning contrasts of two shade loving plants – the delicate, divided fern foliage with strong, bold Philodendron

In more temperate areas, foxgloves, hydrangeas, Rodgersia, Fatsia and Bergenia are all good options for dappled shade.  Fatsia is particularly drought tolerant – one of few frost tolerant plants with large leaves that can dope with dry soil.  Heuchera is a good choice for the edge of the dappled shade (with a little more sun) to bring in contrasting foliage colour.

If you like a more formal look, neat Buxus balls or hedging can be combined in either climates – bringing a more manicured and structured feel.  Mondo grass is another useful edging plant for either climate.

One of many Asplenium cultivars with beautifully textured leaves

One of many Asplenium cultivars with beautifully textured leaf margins

As well as choosing plants that contrast well and therefore highlight the beautiful texture of ferns, think about how you integrate them with other, perhaps sunnier areas of the garden.  Cycads are a great friend to many ferns as they reflect the same elegant shape and yet cope with a lot more sun.  They can be used to link shady and sunny parts of the garden, giving a unified feel.  Agapanthus is another useful, sunny plant, tying in well with Asplenium foliage.

Whether Pinterest is a great predictor of future garden trends remains to be seen, but either way, ferns are a beautiful addition to any garden which has shade and moisture, bringing pleasing colour, texture and form the full year round.

For more ideas on using ferns in your garden, please see my shade and moisture loving Pinterest board.

Shade loving plants at my front door - since taking the photo the fern has bent it's head to the light and now greets visitors as they approach the verandah

Shade loving plants at my front door – since taking the photo the fern has bent it’s head to the light and now greets visitors as they approach the verandah

4 thoughts on “Latest Trend in Garden Design: Ferns

  1. Dot says:

    Thank you Janna. Most of these ideas can be applied to Auckland. Your front door area looks welcoming and attractive. The floor tiles remind me of Victorian semi in London I know very well. X

    • jannaschreier says:

      Auckland is quite similar to Sydney for gardening, isn’t it? In fact the best sub-tropical gardening book I have is written by a lady from Auckland. It is funny how I think Federation houses look very Australian but most Australians say our house is very English. I have connected the tiles to the small front garden by using lots of orange – orange flowers of Kniphofia, Crocosmia, Hemerocallis and Clivia and even orange foliage of Philodendron ‘Imperial Gold’. I love the bright, happy colours as I come home!

      • Adriana Fraser says:

        For a bitof colour that starts in winter and just keeps on going try Geum ‘Tangerine’ it is a lovely plant and such a great performer. They do need sun though.
        Perhaps the resurgence in interest in ferns started after our long drought broke – will be interesting to see if it lasts once we have long dry spells again.

  2. jannaschreier says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, Adriana – always love recommendations. I don’t have much sun at the front but I will try and find a spot at the back for it. Interestingly, much of my ‘audience’ (as Pinterest calls it) is based in the US, particularly California. Also quite a lot in the UK and elsewhere so the trends I see are changes happening worldwide.

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