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The versatility of ferns is being seen again

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Jennifer Moore
You need this in your perennial border.

Gardeners today with busy schedules want less work in their gardens, and thus a need is established for plants that do just that. Their focus is more on leaf texture and foliage colour, rather than blooms and pruning schedules, consequently plants that don't require a lot of care and maintenance are sought after.

Self sufficient ponds, shade gardens and woodland gardens are emerging in backyards across the country, and with it increases the number of carefree plants needed. Various species of ferns are such a plant. Ferns native to our area or bred in other countries are making their way into gardener's hearts everywhere.

Ferns that are short, tall, medium green, silver-toned, whispy or leathery are being discovered at nurseries everywhere, and it seems the more you look, the more choices are being offered.

It was once viewed as passé to have an area of only ferns, but now it has come full circle and the want is back. When mass planted, their smooth, elegant and graceful forms are being seen once again.

Long ago, native ferns were sought after for their delicate, tender and tightly curled fronds in the springtime. Boiled, then pan fried in butter they were considered a delicacy and only a select few were allowed to eat them. Still today, the hunt for the indulgence is there and most often is given at fine restaurants at luxurious prices for a few short weeks.

Other advantages are being seen, as ferns grow virtually anywhere; dappled shade, full sun, wet to almost dry areas, and it seems that once established in its new location - it thrives with little or no input from the owner.

Not needing a deep soil bed, they can also be grown in all types of soil. They are not fussy, really only needing a soil that is kept moist to establish themselves in. If given a sandy area, then compost and decomposed manure would be required.

Many ferns are available at nurseries throughout the country; be sure you buy from a reputable company that purchases their ferns from growers, and are not harvested from the wild.

Different ferns have different looks; the following is a selection of a sampling available for the gardener's delight:

Sensitive Fern - Growing 12 to 24 inches tall, this plant has wider leaves making up each branch. Still toothed, it's leaves have softer curves than the regular ferns commonly seen in the wild. It grows well in part-sun to part-shade, in moist to dry soil and survives zone 4 winters.

Hare's Tongue Fern - Unusual because the fronds do not look like the traditional, deeply toothed ones. Instead the plant has wide, leathery looking leaves, sometimes more than 4 inches across that are deeply toothed. A pretty, medium green and a smooth leaf gives this plant a wonderful look when it is planted in a large clump. Growing not too tall at 12 inches, this plant is able to be placed in many areas; either part-sun or shade and in moist or dry locations. It grows well into zone 3.

Japanese Painted Fern - A unique fern with its silver-tipped, deeply toothed leaves and purple-red stems. It grows best in a partial sun, moist site, to a height of 18 to 24 inches. A hardy plant, growing in zone 3, I wonder why more people don't have it.

Ostrich Fern - Large, showy, wide fronds grow 2 to 3 feet tall emanating from the centre in a large circle. It grows in full sun to part shade and in moist or dry soils. Grows in zone 3 well.

Cinnamon Fern - Growing 2 to 4 feet tall in full shade to full sun, and in dry or moist soil. The leaves are medium green, deeply toothed and not as wide as the Ostrich Fern. The characteristic that gives this plant its name is a medium brown branch that grows from the center of the crown and resembles a large cinnamon stick. Survives zone 3 winters wonderfully.

Oak Fern - Growing only 12 to 16 inches in height, this is a great plant for small areas. It's leaves are deeply cut, but many stems make up a single frond on this plant. It is suitable for moist soil and shade to sun locations. Easily surviving zone 3 winters.

With the versatility of these plants, it is easy to see why they are making a comeback; in people's gardens and hearts.

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