Japanese Fern Border

Athyrium 'Burgundy Lace'

Athyrium ‘Burgundy Lace’

I mentioned in my last post that I had created a new border – the Japanese fern border.

My patio is quite shady on the garden size and is edged with a long narrow border which is backed by a 4ft wall which holds up the rest of the garden.  The border is divided in two by the greenhouse.  The longer section is my spring border which was featured in last year’s  End of Month View.  I haven’t really mentioned the shorter border as I have been unhappy with it.  The short section is also overshadowed by a prostrate rosemary which is growing on top of the wall and this makes the border quite shady.

The soil in the border is excellent due to 9 years of me adding compost, wood chip and other stuff.  It is also very free draining but doesn’t dry out quickly which actually means that I have some of that elusive moist free draining soil that all the plant books talk about.


Anyway, back last January I visited Ashwood Nurseries and was lucky enough to have a tour of John Massey’s garden.  There was a small fern border by his front door which looked great despite it being January and this planted a seed of an idea.  Then I was chatting with Victoria about ferns and she suggested I plant them in the short border.  It is after all just the right conditions.  I already have many ferns in the garden which I wanted to add to and I decided I needed a focus for the ferns in the new border.  A bit of research lead me to decide that it should be planted with Japanese ferns.  I already had a Japanese Holly Fern in the border so this made sense.  Also my favourite ferns – Athyriums or Painted ferns  – are Japanese so it was a no brainer.

Buying plants for this border has led to some interesting and amusing conversations with nurseryman at Malvern Spring show and Spetchley plant fair.  Asking for recommendations of Japanese ferns was a good opening of a conversation and that I find is often the hardest bit when talking to nurseryman.  Once you show more interest than where do I plant this you can have some fabulous conversations as they know you are really interested.

Polystochum Tsus-simense

Polystochum Tsus-simense

Anyway, I have now added Cyrtomium fortunei, Polystichum Tsus-simense, Polystichum polyblepharum and Athryium Burgandy Lace to the border.  Also in the border are some perennials which I haven’t decided whether to relocate yet including: Disporopsis undulata, Impatiens omeiana and Cautelya spicata ‘Arun Flame’.  I think they will add a nice contrast to the ferns but we will see.  I might do a bit of research to see where they originate from to see if they nicely fit my theme but I know that the Cautelya is from Nepal so this is already going off target!

Interestingly my youngest doesn’t like this border as he says it is dull and lacking height and variety.  I am wondering if he is right.  Whilst there are differences in the textures and colours of the foliage the structure of the plants is still the same so there is possibly not enough variety but we shall see how it pans out.

19 Comments on “Japanese Fern Border

  1. Great to see your new fern border Helen. It will be interesting to see how it all knits together over time and what happens over winter. I could see hostas and heucheras fitting in there too but I know that you have an aversion to the latter 🙂 I bought a Polystichum tsus-simense at the Plant Hunter’s Fair at Hodnet but still have to master its proper name. Korean rock fern trips off the tongue much more readily.

  2. I love your new border Helen. I am deeply envious of the very idea of moist well drained soil. Whenever I read that a plant needs it I know it will die here! I love ferns and most of them wouldn’t be happy here but I have established Dryopteris successfully and there are one of two which just grow wild. I think it might be quite a subtle taste – perhaps your son will grow to love it!

  3. I think the idea of a fern border is a lovely one–a perfect application for that elusive moist, free-draining soil! Can’t wait to see it when it fills out.

  4. It takes a garden about 3 years before you start to see it really come into its real form. I would think you won’t get a good sense how your latest creation will look until it is a least two years old.

  5. Love your fern border, I usually plant hostas with mine to form a contrast with all the lacy foliage, plus of course there are then contrasts with the colour as well. The japanese painted fern is one of my favourites, such beautifully understated colours.

  6. I think ferns are one of those things,strangely, that you come to appreciate with age. At your son’s age I would also have thought them dull.

  7. I love the idea of sticking to Japanese ferns – and the Athyrium really is stunning! I wonder if most people who are not (yet) plant lovers need colour in gardens to appreciate them? And yet some people do develop purely foliage gardens, so I suppose it’s horses for courses (silly phrase!) 😉

  8. With such lovely soil, and making the most of the shady position, it sounds as though those ferns should be romping away and give you a lovely lush border that will hopefully make your son admit you were right ;).

  9. How gorgeous is that going to be when it matures and fills out Helen!! Japanese painted ferns are my favourite fern too. I’ve got a couple of young ones in the garden.
    I grow one of mine with a couple of other Japanese natives – Kirengeshoma palmata and Polemonium yezoense, perhaps considering other Japanese natives might grab your son’s attention 😉

    • Hi Angie
      I have Kirengeshoma elsewhere so I could possibly move one but to be honest my son isnt here enough for his view to matter!!

  10. Hi – it’s looking great and will fill out – what complicated names! I am more used to our beautiful ferns but not at all up with their names. More progress with my new tropical garden and started to have a good tidy up around the pool. There are guests end of June so needs to be tidy – tho’ not swimming as about 15 degrees. Swam 500 metes at local pool complex – relaxes my lower back – old ladies breast stroke!

  11. What a perfect use of the space Helen, I love it, and surely the height issue will be sorted out as the ferns grow, some being taller than others? Either way, I think having a small area withh such a definite identity is a really good idea, and although a hosta would certainly add a good foliage contrast, there doesn’t look to be enough room and it breaks the theme. Enjoy it, I say!

  12. This particular form of Solomon Seal is Hardy to Zone 2 and grows 18 to 24 inches. As a group, Solomon Seal are disease and pest free, low maintenance plants happiest in part to full shade. They are a great companion for ferns, hosta or heuchera — a beautiful addition to any garden. Although they are a spreading plant, Solomon Seal are not invasive.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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