Hardy Ferns

Tough, deer-proof plants add stunning texture to the deepest shade

What is it about ferns? They seem so wild and exotic, so mysterious, the way they seek out the cool, dark places, their fronds, delicate and lacey, gently unfurling in shadow. Yet, plant them in a pair of urns flanking a stately entrance, and they transform, becoming formal, aristocratic—grand, even. Not many plants are quite so versatile. Maybe the fern is because, as one of the oldest plants on Earth, they have learned to adapt, in one form or another, since well before the days of dinosaurs.

Over millions of years, ferns arose as several families or groups rather than as one single family, and although they are the only seedless vascular plants in the world, ferns are extremely diverse, with estimated numbers of existing species ranging between 10,500 and 15,000, and new species still being discovered.

These nonflowering foliage plants maintain a primitive, prehistoric look that has a timeless appeal, at once delicate and graceful. Hardy ferns typically grow about 1 to 3 feet tall and wide, although some species grow much larger. With their fine, ferny texture, they are highly prized for their ability to create stunning textural contrasts. Ferns are typically verdant, but some are bronze, burgundy, or silver; and some have a metallic tint.

Although most ferns are tropical, hardy ferns grow in temperate and arctic climates. But many hardy ferns tolerate both cold and heat. They typically grow wild in woodlands and wet lowlands and are shade- and moisture-loving plants that grow best in loose soil high in organic matter. Hardy ferns are an excellent choice for boggy areas around ponds or along streams. And most spread and colonize over time, making great ground cover. But they also grow well in containers, indoors or outdoors. Hardy ferns are deer proof.