The best of ferns; Gardening; Bring shadier spots to life.
Byline: with Adrienne Wild
FANTASTIC ferns can work wonders - transforming drab zones into a leafy paradise.
Mimic woodland spots by planting them under the dry shade of a few trees or some large shrubs.
British native ferns are the ideal choice for these dead areas where little else will grow. They look best when planted in naturalised drifts.
A good selection for dry shade is polypodiums, polystichums and dryopteris. The native male or buckler fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, sends up one metre tall fronds that stay green until autumn. It grows almost anywhere - even in pots.
Just as tough but a bit more fancy is its golden-green relative Dryopteris affinis, especially Cristata, which looks fresh and bright all summer when in moist soil. Grow it in a shady border with other woodland plants and cut back decayed fronds in winter.
If you have a large area in shade, make a stumpery. These were popular in Victorian gardens - similar to an alpine rockery only with tree trunks and logs instead of rocks. The aim is to reflect the craggy natural landscape.
Pockets left between logs can be filled with a range of ferns, including the luxuriant soft shield fern. Or try the hard shield fern, which has brown spores on the underside of its leaves, and blechnums, with evergreen fronds edged with teeth like a hedge trimmer.
On chalky soils, the smooth, crinkly, green tongue-like leaves of the common hart's-tongue thrive best. They cope better than most with drought or deluge. Look out for Crispum, with its frilly edges.
Damp areas with acid soil can also be transformed with a stand of the royal fern, Osmunda regalis, which has gorgeous brown fuzzy fiddle heads that unfurl to light green, airy fronds.
The shuttlecock fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, sends out underground stems, so a single plant soon becomes a massive clump to colonise a seriously soggy area.
Both ferns make a graceful backdrop for showier plants such as Candelabra primulas.
When planting, give ferns a boost with a little bone meal and leaf mould, mulch generously and keep well-watered until they establish.