The feathery texture of ferns look good in the shade garden, and even better when mixed with other foliage perennials. I especially like them paired with other plants that have shiny or large, thick leaves.
Above are some Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ (lady in red ferns) with Asarum europaeum (European ginger). This is one of my favourite foliage pairs for the shade. The pointed fronds drape over the rounded leaves of the groundcover, and the light texture of lady fern looks great next to the highly reflective European ginger leaves. ‘Lady in Red’ fern stands out a little more than the basic lady fern, because of the dark axis down the middle. It gives the frond more emphasis and definition than the species lady fern, which is all green. The central axis of the fronds are noticeably red when they first emerge, and then turn a brownish red.
These Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ are combined with Brunnera macropylla ‘Mr. Morse’ (Siberian bugloss). The lacy fronds are behind the wonderful heart shaped leaves with beautiful silver and green patterns. ‘Mr. Morse’ gets white flowers, instead of the usual Brunnera blue.
For about 6 weeks in spring, the white flowers of the Brunnera are entwined with the ‘Lady in Red’ fern, looking like a flower arrangement that’s heavy on the greenery.
In another garden area I have Athyrium filix-femina next to some Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’ (lungwort). These Pulmonaria leaves are just developing their overall silver grey colouring after flowering. The early leaves, and ones on the flower stalk are still polka dotted.
Another good combination is Athyrium filix-femina with Hosta ‘Francee’. The thick Hosta leaves look even better when contrasted with the filigree design of the fern. The lady fern keeps sending up new fronds through the summer, creating a thick look. When there is a breeze, the lady ferns sway over top of the solid Hosta foliage, a very pretty look in the garden, but not appreciated when you are trying to take a picture on a windy day.
These Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern) have a fantastic silver cast, which coordinates with another Hosta ‘Francee’ in my front garden. I like the pale colour of the fern with the white edge of the Hosta. These both lighten the area under my conifers, and the dappled light plays on them as the sun moves through the day. I started this garden bed under some pine and spruce last year, and I’m currently expanding it.
Above is an Athyrium ‘Ghost’ fern with Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ (Ivory Prince hellebore). This hellebore has light marbling on the thick leaves, which goes well with the silvery green of the ghost fern. The Helleborus is still holding onto the green flower sepals from spring, and a few blue Brunnera flowers are leaning over from the right. I have an Athyrium niponicum ‘Regal Red’ (Japanese painted fern) on the other side of the Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’.
Another Athyrium ‘Ghost’ is put together with Actaea (bugbane). The Actaea has a subtle purple edge and its leaves make a nice partner with the fern. In the above photos, you can see how the fern glows in the shade compared to other foliage.
This Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern) is adjacent to a Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (lungwort) that always sends a few blue flowers in through the fronds.
The lacy Adiantum pedatum combines with another Brunnera macrophylla. The delicate looking fronds wave over top of the heart shaped leaves. This fern adds a lot of movement of the garden. It has shiny, black stalks from which the leaflets radiate out in a horseshoe shape. The long, slender leaflets give it a more delicate look.
Dryopteris expansa (spiny wood fern) is matched with Hosta ‘Francee’. This Dryopteris is semi-evergreen, keeping some of its fronds past the frost, so it is good for a northern garden. The spiny wood fern has papery spines on the lower stalks that are soft and flexible. It is well behaved, slowly increasing in size.
This Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ frond meets a Brunnera and some Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) which flowered earlier.
Adiantum pedatum works well with annual impatiens, too. These are Impatiens ‘Fiesta Ole Frost’, with double white flowers. The Adiantum is tall, so the fronds dance over top of the Impatiens flowers.
The fine texture of the ferns looks great in the garden when combined with other substantial perennial foliage. I like it when their lacy texture is complimented by glossy, thick or large leaves. You can read more about Athyrium in this previous post, and about other cold climate ferns in this post. There are photos of fiddlehead ferns here. Do you have any favourite fern combinations?