Athyrium Beautiful Garden Ferns

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) with broad leafed plants
Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) with broad leafed plants

The Athyrium ferns add delightful lacy foliage to the shadows in the garden. Their foliage adds movement to the garden, swaying in the breezes. The finely divided fronds of ferns look especially nice next to large, solid leaves. These ones are all hardy, and thrive in the shade.

In this photo, the Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) are planted with Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’, Brunnera and Hosta ‘Francee’. Their fresh green colour looks good with silver leafed plants.

Athyrium filix-femina are wonderfully robust ferns for the garden. These are the second ferns to unfurl in spring in my garden, right after the Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich ferns). However, the fronds of the lady fern last longer in the fall. The lady ferns continually unroll new fronds through the summer, making substantial clumps. They are very easy to divide.

My lady ferns came to the garden of their own accord, showing up as tiny ferns in the spaces between my patio stones at my last garden. I had no other ferns at the time, so they must have drifted in. I haven’t had any self spore since then, but the groups have grown, and I’ve divided them to form new plants.

Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' full fronds
Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' full fronds

Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ are an especially attractive version of the lady fern, with darker red stems. These contrast nicely with the lighter green foliage, and give them a little pizazz. These have been very hardy in my garden, and they are up reasonably early in the spring too.

Athyrium filix-femina comparison with 'Lady in Red' on right
Athyrium filix-femina comparison with 'Lady in Red' on right

Above is a collage of the two ferns side by side.You can see the midrib of the A. filix-femina on the left is green, while the midrib of  ‘Lady in Red’ on the right is a dark red. This red colour is most pronounced on new growth.

Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum' a few fronds
Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum' a few fronds

Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ (Japanese painted fern) is a very slow plant to come up in spring in my garden. It sends up a single frond quite late, and then tentatively, a few others. I moved these plant last fall to a site with a bit more  morning sun, hoping that it would bulk them up. Perhaps the move set them back, so we’ll see next year.

Athyrium x 'Ghost' (ghost fern) new fronds
Athyrium x 'Ghost' (ghost fern) new fronds

I particularly admire the light silver fronds of Athyrium x ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern), with the contrasting red coloured midrib. These ferns form a good sized clump, and their light colour shows up well in the darker areas of shade. They make a great background to show off other plants in front of them. They are more robust then the painted ferns, but not quite as vigorous as the lady ferns.

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) June
Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) June

All of these Athyrium make great garden plants for the shady areas. The variations in colour of their foliage and midribs add variety to the garden, while the lacy fronds of these ferns add a fine texture.

You can read more about my hardy ferns in this post, about fern combinations in another post, and see photos of new fiddlehead ferns in this post.

15 thoughts on “Athyrium Beautiful Garden Ferns”

  1. I have always loved ferns. They remind me of my grandmother’s garden. The new fronds are so sweet as they unfurl.

    So nice to have them come and join your garden. Obviously, they know a good place when they see it – word has got around! :)

    1. The Garden Ms. S, I love watching the new fiddleheads emerge, unroll and transform into the broad fronds, looking fascinating. These ferns give lots of texture in a garden bed.

      Joanne, the intricate outlines of their fronds are beautiful, and they are calming. Yesterday it was windy, and I enjoyed watching them sway back and forth, in contrast to the large leaves next to them.

  2. Your ferns look lovely. I was looking at mine today they are so calming on a hot day which it has been a scorcher again today and although there has been rain around it keeps missing us.

  3. Athyrium are my all time favourite ferns. Don’t be surprised if Ghost sneaks up on you (doesn’t that sound scarey). Mine was fairly small – then in year 4 – it just started to really grow – it is taller and wider than all the other athyrium – including ‘Lady in Red’.

    1. Barbara, I really like the way that Ghost show up in the shade. It stands out against the darker areas. I have some near some silver coloured Brunnera, and the two look good together. It’s not a bad size now, but I would love for it to be even bigger. I’ve had it for 3 years, so maybe it’s time for a growth spurt.

  4. We share a lot of ferns together ! I can’t imagine having a garden without them .. I do have a problem with my Lady-in-Red , it is stuck behind my Sumac and I would love to move her or at least slice a chunk away from her to give it more room and have a division I can plant else where .. it has thrown babies and I have located them in different parts of the garden. But this “stuck behind the sumac” problem has me wondering what to do ?
    Ghost on the other hand is one happy fern .. and my Japanese cultivars with the Christmas fern .. all seem to be smiling this year : )

    1. Joy, I love the intricate patterns of the fern fronds. It would be hard to see your Lady in Red behind the tree, but if you are getting new little ones, then it must not mind the location. I’ve found it very easy to divide the lady ferns, so maybe you could reach behind and dig a good chunk. The last time I dug up my lady ferns to move them, one accidentally landed upside down, snapping most of the fronds. A few months later I hardly noticed the damage, with all of the new growth. I like the way they keep sending up fronds, giving that lush look.

  5. Wonderful! The ferns are really the stars together with hostas in the shadow! I ‘m cultivating in the shadow border in the same way like you do.

    Have a great time. Wurzerl

  6. Ferns are so luxurious and good companions for spring and summer wildflowers! I am lucky to be able to grow evergreen Christmas Ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides)….it can take the dry shade. gail

    1. Gail, The Polystichum sounds like a great fern for your garden conditions, and a good mixer. Ferns do pair well with wildflowers, making pretty bouquets right in the garden bed.

  7. I like Athyriums too – I’ve just bought ‘Ursula’s Red’ after spending ages comparing the plants in the shop to see which of them had the best colour – I find the colour can be very variable sometimes. I would like ‘Ghost’ but haven’t come across it yet. I want to see it before I buy!

    1. Easygardener, they do seem to have a range of colours in A. niponicum. My ‘Ghost’ ferns are very silvery, with the darker coloured midribs. Because it has many fronds, you really notice it.

    1. Plants pages, I really enjoy the lushness ferns add to a garden, and agree that the green fronds create a cool feeling under the trees. They look great with other perennials, and make a nice separator between other plants, helping to make plants of different colours look good together.

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