Fifty Shades of Green - The Wonderful World of Ferns

Tony and Sylvia Marden, from, recommend their favourite ferns - 20 May 2016

There are lots of different ferns in many shades of green and, although they are subtle, other colours too. Ferns can make a dark dull alley into something interesting. You could make a stumpery, like Prince Charles at Highgrove, and fill it with ferns of your choice. They look good under trees and by fences and walls; they also look very good in pots. Here are some that we recommend:

Polystichum polyblepherum is a glorious evergreen shiny fern that grows to about 2 feet.

Dryopteris wallichiana is a magnificent fern that grows up to 4 -5 feet tall. The black croziers, when grown up, look like black curled fists. The stalks are black and it is, all in all, a dramatic fern.


Dryopteris Erytherosa has pink croziers that open up to a bronze colour so you have colour all year .It grows to 2.5 to 3 feet.

Athyrium nipponicum metallicum, is also known as Japanese Painted Fern (there are at least 13 different painted ferns) It is deciduous, and has pink and silvery fronds, growing to 18 inches tall and 2 feet  wide. It can look good at the front of your fernery. It needs good drainage.


Polystichum polyblepherum & Athyrium nipponicum metallicum.

By contrast, Matteucia struthiopteris would like to live on the edge of a pond or lake where it's feet are wet. It is known as the Shuttlecock Fern, which tells you all you need to know about the shape of the new fronds, and grows up to 4 feet high. It spreads by runners and is a wonderful sight when fully grown. Deciduous. 


Osmunda regalis  (Royal Fern), is a British native that also likes wet feet and grows to 4 feet plus high if it likes where you put it. It has delicately cut fronds and is deciduous, and is very beautiful and delicate looking. It was almost entirely removed from from the wild by the Victorians who used its roots as orchid compost.


Onoclea sensibilis (Oak Leaved Fern), is so called because at first frost it turns to its Autumn colours and goes to sleep for the Winter (Very sensibly). It is a creeping fern that can cover quite a large area. It prefers moist conditions. Very pretty, 3-4 feet.

Dryopteris affinis is a native fern that is a real tough cookie. It is reliably evergreen. It grows to 3-4 feet.

Phylittus scolopendrium (Hart's Tongue Fern) is an evergreen native that likes lime soils. It grows to 2 feet. There are a number of cultivars; we stock Phyllitus scolopendrum 'Angustatum', which is a narrow form with a wavy edge and is very attractive, and  P. scolopendrum 'Cristatum' which is a cristate form where every frond is different.

Finally, we also recommend Polystichum tsus-simense (Korean Rock Fern), an evergreen fern that grows to about 18 inches by 18 inches.

These are the main ferns we grow out of the many thousands, and we try to look for ferns that are distinctly different. For specific conditions, these are our recommendations:

FERNS that tolerate dry conditions

Dryopterisa affinis
Dryopteris erytherosa
Dryopteris wallichiana
Dryopteris cristata

FERNS that prefer wet conditions i.e edges of ponds or lakes

Osmunda regalis
Matteucia struthiopteris
Onoclea sensibilis

Most other ferns like an evenly moist sheltered site. All ferns prefer shade, although Dryopteris Filix Mas will tolerate sun if moist at the roots.

We sell all of the above at Rare Plant Fairs. grow unusual shade-loving plants, including Arisaemas, Podophyllums, Arisarums, Polygonatums, Hostas  and, of course, ferns. They sell from specialist plant fairs and the full list of events they attending can be found on the "events" page of their website at You are welcome to visit their (untidy, their words!) nursery but please contact them first as they are away most weekends (and some weekdays) at Fairs.