There's been a lot of recent activity growing on in the Woodland garden on the north side of the house in the past week or so ... warmer weather, followed by several days of significant spring rains and the ferns have just started bounding up from the ground. Though we have several varieties growing amongst the Bleeding Hearts, Hellebores, Ligularia, Heuchera and other shade lovers, I've chosen these two examples primarily because they've both been putting on quite the dramatic and enthusiastic re-emergence in recent days.
The first two shots are of the fiddleheads of the "Leatherwood" or "Marginal Woodfern" (Dryopteris marginalis), not only one of our favorites but also prized by florists who often incorporate the woody fronds in their arrangements. Luckily our specimens never meet this fate, and are allowed to pursue their natural habit of forming a relatively asymmetric clump of fronds over the course of the summer which then flattens out after a hard freeze in the fall. They do remain somewhat evergreen over the course of the winter, and even if they're not at their most attractive, they retain some of their green through even the coldest of months. The fiddleheads start emerging in early spring and quickly unfurl into the rich, dark green fronds they will retain until late fall or early winter. We have noticed that they do put on a lot of spores in late summer, though thus far, we've not seen them spread significantly ... even though we would be delighted to see that happen. Maybe over time (these specimens are about seven years old at this point) they will, but until that point we just continue to enjoy the distinct woodland touch they contribute to their neighbors in the cooler, damper shady spots they call home.
Our other specimen (third photo) is the rather common, though lovely, Ostrich Plume fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), which has definitely ranked up there as one of my favorite ferns from my childhood. To my young imagination, these ferns just typified the sort of plant that would have abounded during the time of the dinosaurs ... I have fond memories of seeing them grow in older, well established flower beds near old houses. This seems to be one of those ferns that had a real vogue at a certain time, but has since fallen somewhat out of favor. Part of that could be (I theorize) because as ferns go, they are a bit invasive, and will colonize quickly and move outward from an area where they have already established themselves. We've already seen them take over their original space and multiply, but we're happy to just dig them up and re-plant them in other areas where we'd like them to take over.
Ostrich plumes tend to thrive near the foundations of houses and don't mind deep shade, and as long at they get sufficient water during the drier months, they will reach heights of about four feet over the season. One thing I really appreciate about the Ostrich Plumes (along with their easy, generous nature) is the smell ... to my nose they just typify a clean, woodsy scent that evokes a woodland planting. And mixed in with their neighbors in our garden (Angelica and Lily of the Valley) they're right at home, providing their signature lush, jade like green all season long. There's a gardening sharing story behind our specimens ... we inherited these really plain, generic Hostas in the spot they occupy ... we didn't like them and wanted ferns there instead, so we traded the Hostas with a neighbor who had just acquired these ferns from a friend and hadn't found time to plant them. A more opportune trade could not have been made ... not only did we rid ourselves of the boring Hostas, we got a good starter supply of Ostrich Plumes that continues to thrive and multiply! In fact, I spotted a few renegades last night who will be moving to other spots this spring, so they can join their other compatriots in filling in those difficult shady spots! To my mind, they're a shade garden essential, and should they start to overrun their space, you're more than likely to find willing volunteers who will give the upstarts a new home ...
Guest photos courtesy of Fernymoss