Hostas and autumn fern are BFFs

Steve Bender

Many gardeners (not you, of course) fall victim to tunnel vision when it comes to a beautiful plant. They gaze at that plant and only that plant without imagining what more it could be – if only it had a friend.

I took this photo yesterday afternoon while strolling through the garden at cocktail hour. (Exercise and Buffalo Trace is a great pairing.) There illuminated by a shaft of sunlight, I saw a plant combination that is more than the sum of its parts. Hostas and autumn fern (Dryopteris ethrythrosora).

The hosta in front is ‘Paul’s Glory.’ The one peeking out in the upper right is ‘First Frost.’ Look closely in the bottom right and you can see a smidge of sunny, grassy foliage belonging to Carex ‘Evergold.’

I planted this combo last spring with three goals in mind. First, use plants that like the same growing conditions. Here, that means light shade and fertile, well-drained soil that still holds moisture. No clay! Second, use plants with contrasting foliage shapes and textures. You can’t get more contrast than the big, coarse leaves of hosta juxtaposed with the finely cut fronds of ferns. Finally, I wanted one plant to repeat some of the color of the other, while adding a little something extra.

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As you can see, I succeeded brilliantly.

Notice how the gold of the emerging fronds echoes the color of the hosta beneath them. On top of that, the burnt orange tips of the fronds literally set the scene on fire.

All these plants are readily available now at fine garden centers everywhere – well, except for garden centers up north still buried under snowdrifts. If this is your garden center, don’t despair. Now you have more time to plan! Like maybe a whole month.

Think of creating combos like this as you stroll through your garden. If you have trouble imagining the possibilities, take some Buffalo Trace with you. It helps.