Japanese Painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum) have become popular in recent years and deservedly so. They flourish on little attention and add a boost of colour to the shady garden with their elegant silver, maroon and green fronds. There was a sad row of Japanese Painted ferns fighting off the weeds and struggling with too much sun when we took over the yard here. Since I divided the plants and resettled them in more appropriate shaded locations, they have done beautifully.
Japanese Painted ferns and other Athyrium ferns are sometimes called lady ferns. I didn’t find an explanation for this appellation. Perhaps they are so called because of their delicate beauty. In spite of their refined appearance, lady ferns are generally tough plants that grow well in the garden, and this summer I decided to add three more lady fern varieties to the shady border.
One of the most interesting is Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae. Its fronds have an unusual criss-cross form. Half of each pinnae ascends at a 45 degree angle, while the other half points downward, resulting in a frond that looks like a series of X’s.
Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’ is sometimes called tatting fern. It is a dwarfed form that won’t grow as large as ‘Victoriae’ above.
Its pinnae have been reduced to odd, semi-circular balls that look rather like beads. Presumably, at one time it reminded people of tatting, but the handicraft that its common name memorializes is rarely practised these days.
And finally, here is Athyrium otophorum, or Eared Lady Fern. It is noted for red to maroon stems that are set off by light creamy green fronds that take on a silver overlay as they darken with age. It struggled more than the other new plants and I think it was getting a bit more sun than it preferred. I moved it late in the season and it seems to be happier.