Monthly Archives: April 2014

Ferns for Different Situations

Asplenium scolopendrium - hart's-tongue fern - © Richard Wareham/GAP Photos

Asplenium scolopendrium – hart’s-tongue fern – © Richard Wareham/GAP Photos

If you have a shady spot in your garden then planting a selection of hardy ferns could be the most effective way to turn it into a stylish green oasis. But you don’t have to plant a whole fernery to enjoy the attractive foliage of these graceful plants. There are options suitable for growing in pots, in a hole in a wall or in open ground, and even growing two or three ferns will bring a new dimension to your garden. Some ferns such as Asplenium scolopendrium even tolerate quite dry soil, although they will need to be watered regularly while they are becoming established.

Dryopteris dilatata 'Crispa Whiteside' - © Sarah Cuttle/GAP Photos

Dryopteris dilatata ‘Crispa Whiteside’ – © Sarah Cuttle/GAP Photos

Generally speaking ferns like a moist spot in humus-rich soil. Before planting these architectural beauties, it’s wise to enhance the soil with plenty of well-rotted leaf mould or other organic matter that isn’t too rich. Garden compost or composted pine needles are also ideal. Many ferns are deciduous but some, such as Dryopteris dilatata, will retain their leaves all year round, so consider planting a good selection to prolong your season of interest.

Athyrium niponicum var pictum - © Andrea Jones/GAP Photos

Athyrium niponicum var pictum – © Andrea Jones/GAP Photos

It’s also worth contrasting different leaf shapes and colours. Athyrium niponicum var pictum, with its complex variegated leaves, is a very dramatic plant and looks superb when grown against a more subtle fern such as Polypodium vulgare ‘Cornubiense’. Some ferns have a more upright growth habit, which highlights the beauty of their stems. Dryopteris filix-mas is best planted at the edge of a border, where its superb shuttlecock shape can be enjoyed. This large fern has leaves that die right back, so you can underplant it with spring bulbs such as snowdrops or squill. In contrast Polystichum setiferum has a very relaxed, floppy shape, with some mossy fronds laying against the bare soil, so it is a striking plant to place under deciduous trees. With evergreen ferns such as this you can cut the foliage back in January if you prefer, or wait until April when the new fronds appear.

Osmunda 'Regalis' AGM - © J S Sira/GAP Photos

Osmunda ‘Regalis’ AGM – © J S Sira/GAP Photos

Very few ferns have been granted an RHS award of Garden Merit, but Osmunda ‘Regalis’ can lay claim to that honour. This king of ferns grows up to 2m tall and 4m wide. The huge fronds are bright green, turning bronze in autumn as they die back. If you have a large spot, in moist soil, this beauty will hold its own against other architectural plants such as Gunnera manicata.

Terrific Tulips

Flowering from March to April, and available in incredibly diverse range of colours and shapes, tulips are extremely easy to grow. In fact if you have freely-draining, limey soil they may come back every year, especially if you plant more sturdy varieties such as ‘Purple Flag’. However, most people tend to plant new bulbs every autumn. There are very delicate blooms such as Tulipa acuminata with tall slender petals, or blowsy double blooms such as ‘Angelique’ or ‘Black Hero’ that look rather like peonies. For dramatic feathery petals, ‘Black Parrot’ is hard to beat. Some have multiple smaller blooms such as ‘Little Beauty’ and T. neustruevae.

Bi-coloured varieties are very striking: ‘Zurei’, with its purple blooms that bleed into white at the tips, is ideal for making a statement. Some varieties, such as ‘Princess Irene’ have a sweet scent. If you want a more delicate plant for an alpine bed or rock garden, T. Whittallii is a great choice. At the other end of the scale, ‘Attila’s Elite’ is a tall, sturdy plant that is great for bedding or as a cut flower. A refreshing change, for a more reserved planting scheme, is ‘Spring Green’. This elegant option is superb teamed with foliage plants such as Euphorbia martinii.

Spring Borders

Spring border with Geum rivale, Geranium 'Sirak', Paeonia lactiflora 'Double White' and Centaurea hypoleuca 'John Coutts' - © Elke Borkowski/GAP Gardens

Spring border with Geum rivale, Geranium ‘Sirak’, Paeonia lactiflora ‘Double White’ and Centaurea hypoleuca ‘John Coutts’ – © Elke Borkowski/GAP Gardens

A spring border is the perfect celebration of the new growing season, banishing the dull days of winter. The fresh new foliage of herbaceous plants such as geums, peonies and perennial geraniums is the glowing backdrop for an airy display of tall-stemmed blooms. Here an array of tulips and alliums in a mixture of pastel shades has been used to great effect. The palest pink tulips in a shade of cherry blossom have been contrasted with dramatic deep purple varieties of the exact same height. Further layers of interest are provided by bold alliums in three different shades of lilac and mauve. The blooms are held high above the vibrant green and gold foliage, and the whole scheme is held together with dramatic burgundy foliage of plants that cleverly appear to be scattered at random across the border. Dramatic blooms in shades of violet and purple are the perfect accompaniment to the pale bark of a small tree that is late to come into leaf, and a simple teak bench that has weathered to a subtle shade of silvery grey. What better place to sit and enjoy the gentle sunshine on a early spring day?