Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ferns: big deal, little deal, or no deal?

I'm not a big fan of ferns.  It's hard to understand how anyone can get too worked up over a plant whose major contribution seems to be . . .  what?  It's green.  It takes up space.  Big deal.

That said, I have found ferns helpful--in a "they also serve who only stand and wait" kind of way--in different areas of the garden.  Several marsh ferns (Thelypteris palustris) anchor  the damp and sunny end of the raingarden. Their foliage plays off the surrounding spiky iris leaves and decorative grasses.

A few Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) are nestled in the dry deep shade of an eastern red cedar. Note to self: since you actually paid good money for these ferns, move them out from the shadows and into a spot where they can actually be seen!

But most of the ferns found their own way into the garden.  There are plenty of these common ferns springing up along the edges of shady beds.  I'm not sure what variety they are.  Perhaps since we're in Massachusetts, they're Massachusetts ferns?

A ginormous clump of lady fern--currently bowled over flat on its back from the ravages of drought and heat--has settled itself in between two evergreens along the back property line.  Its red stems and spores are really quite beautiful.

Despite my low regard, I am always pleased to discover ferns growing in out of the way places--beneath hedges, down the backsides of slopes, in those neglected areas removed from sight and mind.  The other evening, I was weeding one of these damp and dreary marginal spaces--the kind of gnarly wasteland where ugly stuff happens and a lot of it--kind of like the vegetative version of the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. Among the weeds that don't seem to be able to grow anywhere else and the self-sowers that have escaped from their original locations, I was delighted to discover another fern variety--the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). 

This cache of four or five plants was growing in an area that is reliably damp and shady. Now that I've pushed some of the habitues of this low-rent district out, perhaps these ferns will be able to become a big deal in their own small way.

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