Prized since Victorian times for their beautiful foliage, these ferns are very easy to grow. All species described here prefer rich, moist, well-drained soil containing lots of organic matter. They do not tolerate extended summer drought or heavy root competition from trees. Fronds of most types turn brown after repeated frosts; leave the dead foliage on the plants through winter to provide mulch and to shelter the delicate fronds as they emerge in spring. Propagate by dividing clumps in early spring. Deer resistant.
A. filix-femina. LADY FERN. Native to much of North America. Grows to 4 ft. or taller, 23 ft. wide. Rootstock rises up on older plants to make short trunk. Vertical effect; narrow at bottom, spreading at top. Thin, finely divided fronds. Vigorous; can be invasive. Tolerates full sun in constantly moist soil. Specialists stock many selections with oddly cut and feathered fronds. In 'Frizelliae' (about 8 in. high, 1 ft. wide), frond leaflets are reduced to balls; fronds look like strings of beads. 'Vernoniae Cristatum' (to 212 ft. high and wide) has crested and feathered fronds. 'Victoriae' has comblike fronds with narrow, noodle-strapped leaflets. It grows 1 ft. tall and wide.
A. hybrids. Crosses between A. filix-femina and A. niponicum 'Pictum', combining characteristics of each. These plants are vigorous and easy to grow.
'Branford Beauty'. Upright growth to 2 ft. high, 212 ft. wide, with silvery-gray fronds and red stalks.
'Ghost'. Rigidly upright to 23 ft. high, 112 ft. wide, with pale silvery gray fronds. A standout in deep shade.
A. niponicum pictum. JAPANESE PAINTED FERN. Arching fronds grow to 112 ft. long, making a tight, slowly spreading clump 1 ft. high, 112 ft. wide. Most common is A. n. pictum, with fronds that are purplish at base, then lavender, then silvery greenish gray toward the tip. Among its colorful selections are the following. 'Burgundy Lace' has soft burgundy-purple fronds with silver streaking. 'Silver Falls' has long, arching, silver-and-green fronds with purplish red veins; foliage of 'Ursula's Red' is silver flushed with wine-red.
A. otophorum. ENGLISH PAINTED FERN. Actually a native of the Orient. Resembles A. niponicum in size and habit; dark green fronds have a reddish or purple midrib.
A. pycnocarpon (Diplazium pycnocarpon). GLADE FERN, SILVERY SPLEENWORT. From eastern North America. Attractive, rosette-forming deciduous fern with once-divided fronds to 4 ft. long. New spring fronds are silvery light green; they turn darker in summer, then russet before dying back. Tolerates full sun in constantly moist soil.