Garden Shrubs to Plant with Ferns

Garden Shrubs and Ferns

All the hellebores are first class to plant alongside any ferns in a mixed fern border, with bold handsome foliage, and extremely attractive flowers to those who appreciate their subtle colourings. The white Helleborus niger, popularly called the ‘Christmas rose’, in any of its forms is quite delightful, flowering near or soon after Christmas. Incidentally here is a case of a misleading popular name My aunt gave her gardener some plants to put in her garden, and he proudly informed her that they had been planted below the garage wall so that they could grow over it.

In full flower in January, Helleborus orientalis atrorubens is a splendid plant, often flowering from mid-December to the beginning of February, much earlier than the other ‘Lenten roses’ as they are popularly called. All the forms of Helleborus orientalis are much to be desired and they carry on the flowering season right into April.

The true Helleborus Kochii, is a pure white with greenish undertones, and comes quite true from seed, being a true species, though regarded as a form of Helleborus orientalis in some quarters. My original plant, which I have had over twenty years, never fails to produce dozens of its large flowers every spring.

shrubs to plant with ferns - Helleborus argutifolius Contrasting with the other hellebores, H. argutifolius (or H. corsicus) has rather metallic foliage, and its large heads of primrose flowers on two-foot stems appear in February. It is easily raised from seed, when obtained fresh.

Our native Helleborus foetidus is another species of great merit and architectural value, making large mounds of deeply cut dark green foliage surmounted by great heads of greenish-yellow flowers in January and February, and sows itself when undisturbed — it has even sown itself into a mortared wall here, where it is making a tine plant.

By the way all the hellebores are lime lovers and actively resent acid peat by losing their roots therein. Alkaline beech leafmould is liked by all as a topdressing. One of the rarest of hellebores, H. torquatus, whose reputed blue flowers are really a rather dull bluish green, has settled down well in my fern border.

All the hellebores resent being moved, once established, and take as long as two years or more to get back into form after being divided. Requests for bits of your hellebores should be received coldly and the applicants referred to a nurseryman who specializes in these plants.

The juice of hellebores is intensely virulent, as I found out once. Having collected the seed of H. corsicus in the rain, I shelled the ripe seed from their follicles while they were still wet. After twenty minutes I experienced an acute tingling in my fingers and eventually acquired two-inch blisters on thumb and forefinger of both hands.

Perhaps the most effective of all contrasting foliage is that of the hostas, so beloved by the flower arrangers for their striking variegated leaves. My own personal favourite is Hosta glauca, whose large glaucous blue foliage is a sheer delight to me, irrespective of the graceful spires of milk-blue flowers. H. Fortunei picta and H. lancifolia argentea variegata are also excellent, the former with golden variegated leaves in spring which fade to green in summer, the latter with beautiful pure white and brilliant green striped, undulated leaves.

Another favourite of mine is that handsome Japanese woodlander Kirengshoma palmata, which produces sprays of large waxy, pale yellow bells in early autumn, sometimes in August. Three feet high, with unusual foliage, this plant takes a little time to settle down.

The unusual-looking American May apples, Podophyllum Emodi and P. peltatum, are very striking plants, each shoot with one large flower like apple blossom in spring, followed by tomato-like fruits in autumn. The foliage is marbled and effective.

All the woodland lilies look fine in association with ferns; there is something just right with the picture they make when their slender stems rise erect from a mass of arching fronds of Dryopteris dilatata, fronted with a planting of Blechnums; and the yearly topdressing for the ferns is just what the lilies like. They should be planted in drifts rather than in clumps. One group I have of Lilium Duchartrei Farreri planted amongst Blechnum spicant delights me no end.

Where there is ample room, many of the Paeonia species, and forms of Paeonia offcinalis, make majestic clumps of bold foliage and their immense handsome fragrant flowers do not seem out of place in the fern border. They all appreciate a deep root run and should be left undisturbed when they are happy. They flower so much more freely when they are left alone.

The Solomon’s Seal, PoIygonarum multiflorum, is another suitable subject revelling in the cool vegetable soil, its glaucous foliage and tall stems with the cool white bells a-dangle contrasting beautifully with, and enhancing the grace of the ferns. This plant can become rather rampant, but is controllable. A near relation, Smilacina racemosa, has erect stems terminating in spikes of fluffy white flowers, followed by red berries. This plant may exceed two feet; its smaller cousin Smilacina verticillata is dwarfer, but makes rather less display, though its red berries are attractive.

A rather strange plant which came to me recently is a relation of our native ‘Herb Paris’, the Chinese Paris polyphylla. This is a typical woodland plant which sends up two-foot stems terminating in summer with a large flower which, superficially, suggests a passion flower in green and red. This remains in perfect condition for two months, to give place to red berries in autumn: a very photogenic plant.

Many of the primulas are good mixers with ferns, from our native primrose, one of the most beautiful, and its various coloured cultivars, to drifts of the candelabra primulas, Beesiana, Balleyana, burmanica, helodoxa, pulverulenta and its pale pink Bartley form, P. japonica, in various varieties. The candelabras, which have their flowers in whorls, tier upon tier, will reach two feet.

All the woodland primulas are useful, such as Primula saxatilis, P. Sieboldii in its many forms, P. polyneura and the very similar P. Veitchii with flowers of a rather fierce purple, the lovely P. nutans with heads of delicately powdered wide blue bells, the sweet-scented white P. involucrata, and in the foreground P. frondosa, P. Clarkei, P. rosea with intense rosy red flowers in April, and P. warshenewskiana.

Along the front of the border the various hybrids of P. Juliae — the Juliana hybrids — make a fine show in spring, and many others. All will blend in with the ferns and provide continued interest and colour.

cypripediums - 'Lady Slipper' orchids The humus-rich soil also suits the hardy cypripediums, the ‘Lady Slipper’ orchids. Our own rarity par excellence, C. calceolus, revels in the cool woodland conditions, producing its brown and yellow flowers freely, while C. Reginae, or C. spectabilis, shows its large rosy slipper and white petals to advantage amongst the ferns. That is, they will if precautions are taken to keep the slugs down; these love to carve out the interior of the cypripedium’s resting buds during the winter.

The Madeira orchis, O. elata, and one or two of the Pleiones might be tried where the drainage is very good and the shade fairly light.

The lovely American Mertensia virginica will send up its refulgent pale blue flowers in spring, above bluish foliage, but beware the slugs – they will perforate the tuberous roots and clean off every vestige of growth if they get the chance!


09. May 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Ferns, Herbaceous Plants, Ornamental Shrubs, Plants & Trees | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Garden Shrubs to Plant with Ferns


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: