Best 10 Ferns for Shade gardens
There is a mistaken belief that all ferns are happiest in shaded
parts of the garden. Some are most certainly not, whilst others
can put up with half sun and half shade – dappled shade.
This list will give you some ideas for best ferns in the different shade
areas of the garden – dry shade and damp shade
best selection of shade loving ferns includes both evergreen and
deciduous ferns. Many are suited for growing in containers – the
evergreens are particularly useful for this. All ferns are happy in
association with other groups of plants – shrubs and perennials if the
soil conditions are suitable.
may have to hunt round many garden centres or try a specialist nursery.
Most ferns are sold as reasonably mature specimens in containers, and
are quite easy to establish if you follow the cultural instructions for
the individual varieties.
Ferns are not only green in colour. There are several with different
shades of pink and a couple of variegated forms with interesting
foliage. Again, there is a wide variation in the foliage types. You
could not want a more different foliage variation, than those of the
Hart’s Tongue fern and the Maidenhair types
All of the ferns we list in this section are hardy in all but the
most severe of winters, but it is always best to give a little winter
protection to protect the crowns of prized specimens.
Left - Polystichum polyblepharum - Right - Matteuccia
Top Ten List for Shade
- Maidenhair fern Adiantum pedatum.
This is not the same Maidenhair Fern sold for indoor use, but a well
hardy smaller fern – often found in rock crevices or dry-stone
garden walls. Prefers dry-ish conditions
but will tolerate full shade – though always nice if ‘dappled’ by
sunlight flitting through trees.
- Hart's-tongue ferns – Asplenium have lanceolate rather than
fronded leaves. Of particular use and attraction if the ‘Crispum’
wavy edged leaves of Asplenium scolopendrium Crispum
- Athyrium filix-femina – The Lady Fern, is a
native to the UK and fully hardy, with attractive fern fronds. Damp
shade seems to be the best – though will grow in most moist areas.
- Polypodium vulgare 'Pulcherrimum' – The common
Polypody – used in several forms of cooking – because of its unusual
scented leaves, and also in traditional herbal applications.
Attractive foliage and spreads via hairy stolons. Good for ground
Garden Ferns Main Page
- Top 10 Hardy
- Polystichum varieties,
- Polystichum polyblepharum – Damp shade,
in milder areas. Happy in
clay soils, and not
bothered about acid or alkaline soil. Non-invasive good ground
cover and particularly suited to growing in association with
- Polystichum divisilobum group – Damp shade – but also does
well in dry woodland. Very attractive fern fronds with small
bulbils on the end of the individual frondlets. Easy for
- Matteuccia struthiopteris – Ostrich Feather or
Shuttlecock Fern with upright fronds reaching a meter in height.
Stunning sight in the spring as the new fronds rear up before
- Dryopteris filix-mas – the Male Fern is always
a favourite – easy to get and easy to keep. A good coverage of ferny
fronds – though not fully evergreen, but rather semi evergreen. Damp
or dry places with a positive preference for shade though will
tolerate dappled sunshine.
- Dryopteris affinis - The
Golden Male Fern. Semi to fully evergreen depending upon situation
for growing. One for moist soils – almost boggy even – in a woodland
setting where it is at home! The new foliage is light green – almost
lime green, but then changes to a dark green mass of fronds – open
and upright, as with the shuttlecock type ferns. Propagate by spores
– not easy.
- Onoclea sensibilis. The Sensitive Fen – or Bead Fern A
fern best suited to damp areas of shade where it will provide a
spreading carpet of bright green fronds rising from the creeping
rhizomes. Not evergreen but well worth trying. Susceptible to strong
sunlight – hence its common name of The Sensitive Fern. We know
nothing of the bead-like seeds which gives it the other common name.
Have never experienced them growing. Easy to propagate – simply
divide the clump in late winter or early
Others to try include
Dryopteris erythrosora which has purple red
young foliage with a little variegation.