Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Graceful Lady Fern

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
I bring nae rose, or lily fair,
To twine amang thy gowden hair,
Nor fragrant flower, nor scented wreath,
To mingle wi' thy balmy breat;
    But frae the green banks o' the burn
    I bring thy mate the Lady Fern.

The Lady Fern, whase slender stalk
Alane can peer thy genty mak,
The Lady Fern, whase gracefu' air,
Wit' thin alane can e'er compare,
    O whaur may Nature meekness learn?
    Frae thee an' frae the Lady Fern.

The broom adorns, an' crowns the brae,
The whin o'ertaps the rocklet grey;
The heath blooms brichtest on the hill,
An' a' wad fain climb heigher still;
    While in the shade thou lo'est to dern
    Beside thy mate the Lady Fern.

The Lady Fern, James Ballantine (1806-1877)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina, pronounced "uh-THEE-ree-um FY-licks fem-in-uh") makes some wax poetic. It's also known as Aspidium angustum, Athyrium angustum and Polypodium filix-femina. Lady fern is one of the world's most graceful ferns, found mostly in the Northern hemisphere. In North America, it is found in every state and province.

Except during dormancy when it's practically invisible, lady fern is a visual delight. Delicate, light green fronds unfurl in early spring when deciduous trees are just beginning to sprout foliage. Sunlight through the canopy makes lady fern sparkle. As the growing season progresses, fronds turn to medium green.

Mature height ranges from 12 inches to 36 inches, spreading from 12 inches to 30 inches. Lady fern is deer, insect and disease resistant, making it perfect for the low-maintenance shade garden. Gardeners in USDA climate zones 4 to 8 can use them in massed plantings, naturalize them in woodland gardens or any shady location. It seems like every gardener has her favorite collection. Fern and native plant collectors will adore lady ferns because they're so beautiful and easy to grow.

Plant lady fern in partial to full shade in moist, well-drained, loamy soil. pH may range from 6.1 to 7.5.  I recommend taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Office for testing. Follow their recommendations, preparing the soil before purchasing your ferns. Space them 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Take care not to over-water.

Lady fern is ideal for planting around your quiet place in the woodland and beside shady paths. Suitable companions include hosta, astilbe, Jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium, bloodroot, rhododendron, redbud, fawn lily and bluebells.

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