Ferns are some of the best plants for areas where little else will grow. Many ferns are shade lovers, adept at living beneath the dark of trees or in inhospitable crevices between rocks. Unlike the diminutive wildflowers and ground cover many gardeners use for shady spots, ferns are large and impressive, growing lush spreading fronds and often clumping in dense colonies.
Ferns are often found in shady, forested areas where their broad leaves give them advantages in the understory. If you have tall shade trees, create a woodland garden to simulate the natural habitat of the ferns. Grow woodland ferns such as lace or maidenhair ferns along with hostas, English ivy, be sure to select a nonaggressive commercial strain, and other ground cover plants. Add flowering shrubs such as azaleas and woodland wildflowers such as Western trillium or wood violet. This garden will display your ferns to good effect and fill in the troublesome area under your shade trees.
Ferns and Rocks
Many species of ferns are adapted to grow in rocky crevices and cracks. Use ferns to add greenery to your stone hardscape. Plant rusty-back ferns and other hardy species in cracks in retaining walls to give your garden a bit of a rustic, overgrown look. Plant tall, arching male ferns in the space between stone boulders as part of an alpine landscape. Plant ferns around the edges of your stone patio to soften the borders and create a contrast with the stones.
Some ferns are particularly well-suited for wet, boggy areas that would drown many other plants. Recommended by Gardenseeker.com as one of the 10 hardiest ferns, the royal fern and ostrich fern are both particularly well-suited for this role. The royal fern is more than 6 feet tall and covered with broad red-brown fronds, making it a great specimen fern for a rain garden or the shore of a pond. The ostrich fern forms colonies of bright green, lush plants that look good along the edge of a trickling stream or pond.