Garden Notes

Garden Notes

Spanish for Gardeners

One of my favorite things about living on Nantucket is the wide range of people from all over the world that I have the pleasure of meeting and working with.  Over the last few years, I’ve been trying my best to pick up some useful Spanish words and phrases to help me work along side the many people of Latin American descent in landscaping on the island these days.  Although there are many ways to express the same idea in Spanish, some of the following words and constructions have been quite helpful to me.

I’ll be adding to this post off an on, as time permits, so check back to see what other things we can learn to say in Spanish!  Also, if there are any errors (I’m sure I’ll make some as I am not fluent in Spanish), or you know of a better Spanish word or phrase than I am listing, please let me know and I’ll add it to the growing list.  Thanks!

Words that describe plants and their parts:

Plant – La planta

Tree – El árbol

Shrub – El arbusto

Flower – La flor

Ornamental Grass – El zacate

Weed – La mala hierba

Trunk –  El tronco

Branch – La rama

Twig – La ramita

Leaf – La hoja

Root – La raíz

Words for tools used in gardening:

Shovel – La pala

Rake – El rastrillo

Saw – La sierra

Hand pruners – Las tijeras

Shrub shears – Las tijeras grandes

Twine – La pita

Gloves – Los guantes

Wheel barrow/cart – La carreta

Ladder – La escalera

Tarp – La carpeta?, la iona?

Truck – El truck, el carro

Lawn mower – El mower, el cortacésped?

Hedge trimmers – La motosierra?

Chainsaw – La motosierra?

Bucket – El bote

Sea Buckthorn

Working at the nursery as long as I have, there aren’t a lot of landscape plants suitable for Nantucket that I’m not familiar with, so I’m always pleased when I have the opportunity to learn something new.  Last fall, a customer asked about sea buckthorn, a plant I have absolutely no experience with.  After a little research, I think it might be a useful plant for some of the islands’ challenging sea-side properties.  We brought some in for a job this spring, and decided to order some extra for stock.  This plant should be a good choice for growing in close proximity to the shore, where soils are extremely sandy, drainage is excellent and sun is plentiful.

Hippophae rhamnoides has abundant grey/green, skinny leaves on thorny, branches.  Their habit is variable, sometimes reaching the size of a small tree, but they often treated as rangy shrubs.  The plants I have seen growing on Nantucket look quite a lot like Russian olives, although spinier and with narrower leaves.  These plants are dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female plants.  If female plants are pollinated by males, they will have an abundant fruit set of small, yellow/orangy berries.  Native to the Northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America, sea buckthorn it is extremely cold hardy and can be expected to survive during prolonged periods of extreme cold.

There are many varieties in cultivation.  We’re currently stocking ‘Chuysaka’, ‘Hergo’ and ‘Juliet’.

Asian Wisteria

I’ve spent many, many hours on ladders and on top of roofs and pergolas as a professional gardener on Nantucket.  The bulk of those hours have been spent on rose care, but pruning and training wisteria is actually one of my all-time favorite garden tasks.  This graceful, spring-flowering vine requires a lot of work to keep in bounds and looking its best.  This is especially true of the Asian varieties, which are quite a bit more rampant than their North American cousins.  Although there are many cultivars and hybrids, Asian wisteria can generally be separated into to groups: Japanese and Chinese.



Japanese Wisteria, Wisteria floribunda

Flowers open over the course of days, starting at the top of the cluster.  Tendrils twine counter clockwise.

‘Black Dragon’ aka ‘Violacea Plena’ aka ‘Yae Koburyu’:  Deep purple double flowers

‘Domino’ aka ‘Issai’:  Lilac blue flowers

‘Lawrence’:  Pale lavender flowers

‘Longissima Alba’ aka ‘Siro Noda’:  Long white flowers

‘Snow Showers’:  White flowers

‘Honbeni’:  Pink flowers

Chinese Wisteria, Wisteria sinensis

Flowers tend to open all at once.  Tendrils twine clockwise.

‘Blue Moon’:  Bicolor blue flowers

‘Caroline’:  Very fragrant, bluish purple flowers

‘Cooke’s Purple:  Fragrant, bluish purple flowers

‘Jacko’:  Selection of Alba; very fragrant, white flowers

‘Prolifica’:  Bluish violet flowers

‘Royal Purple’:  Deep violet flowers

If you’re interested in how to prune these vines, check out our articles and Youtube videos on the subject:

Video – Summer pruning of Wisteria

Video – Winter pruning of Wisteria

Article – Summer Pruning How-to

Article – Winter Pruning How-to

Old Fashioned Lilacs

Having been a gardener and nurseryman on Nantucket for over 20 years, I’ve amassed a long list of favorite plants.  From year to year, the list changes as some plants become over-used and improved selections and exciting introductions hit the market.  Nonetheless, there are a few plants that will have a special place in my heart no matter what.  Old-fashioned lilacs are one of those.

When I was a child, my grandparents, Jim and Isabelle, had some common lilacs in their yard in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.  Fully mature, their stems had widened into trunks and they were so tall that we called them “lilac trees”.  Grandma would send us outside with kitchen scissors to cut the flowers and bring them indoors.  There were always extra to share, and we often brought some home to my Mom for our house too.  I also clearly remember Mom sending me down to our neighbor Theresa’s house to ask for a cutting of her lilac shrub.  We planted it at the edge of the lawn.  That lilac is now taller than I am and a lovely way to remember Theresa, who so kindly gave it to us, thirty years ago.

There are currently twelve species in the genus Syringa but only a few are cultivated in North America as garden plants.  Syringa vulgaris, common lilac, is the plant that comes to mind when most of us think of traditional lilacs.  There are many cultivars available, with flowers that range in color from crisp white, to deep purple-red.  There also numerous hybrids on the market that make great garden plants.  These lanky, suckering, shrubs grow 15-20 feet tall and can easily spread to occupy a space of 5 or more feet wide.  In order to keep lilacs looking their best, they do require a good pruning regimen.  Since the flowers appear on old wood at the tips of the branches, they can stretch out of reach as the plants get older.

Pruning is best done just after the flowers have faded in mid summer.  Keep in mind these objectives, while pruning:

  • Remove diseased or damaged wood
  • Encourage strong growth at the base of the plant, in order to combat the leggy habit
  • Keep the height of the plant in check, so that flowers can be enjoyed
  • Remove spent flowers, if desired

Consider following these steps while pruning:

  1. Take a good look at the overall structure of the plant.  Consider removing one or two of the oldest stems completely, at ground level
  2. Consider removing a few wayward branches
  3. Make several cuts at different levels to encourage new, bushy growth throughout the plant.
  4. Remove dead heads, making pruning cuts just above healthy buds.
  5. Assess the overall height of the plant, and make deeper, staggered cuts to reduce the height.

Check out our pinterest board for photos of old-fashioned lilacs we’ve carried in the past:

Here’s a quick reference guide to varieties we’ve had in the past:

Syringa vulgaris aka common lilac:  Light purple flowers.  10-12′

Syringa vulgaris ‘Adelaide Dunbar’:  Deep purple buds open to double paler purple flowers.  French lilac.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Agincourt Beauty’:  Very large, deep purple flowers. 10-12′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Charles Joly’:  Deep purple, double flowers.  8-10′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Edward J Gardner’:  Light pink, double flowers.  8-10′.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Equinox Valley’:  Reddish-purple buds open to double light purple flowers.  8-15′.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Maidens Blush’:  Light pink flowers.  Canadian lilac.  Early flowering.  10-12′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’:  White, double flowers.  French lilac. 15′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Monge’: Reddish-purple flowers.  French Lilac. 8-12′.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Mount Baker’:  White flowers.  Canadian lilac.  Early flowering.  12-15′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Nadezhda’: Double, lilac-blue flowers.  Mid-season. 8-12′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Krasavitsa Moscovy’ aka Beauty of Moscow:  Very pale pink buds open to double white flowers.  12′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Lavender Lady’: Light purple flowers.  12′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Paul Thirion’:  Reddish-purple buds open to double pale purple flowers.  French lilac.  10-12′.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’:  Deep purple buds open to paler purple.  Canadian Lilac.  Early.  10′

Syringa vulgaris ‘President Grevy’: Violet-blue, double flowers.  French liac.  10-12′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’:  Purple-blue flowers.  Mid-season.  8-10′.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’:  Reddish Purple florets, tinged in white.  French lilac.  Mid-season. 10-12′.


Walking around the nursery yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice the overall lack of color.  With so many deciduous trees on site, you would think we would have a riot of red, purple, orange and yellow leaves all over the place.  Unfortunately, Nantucket’s moderate climate doesn’t usually make for excellent displays of autumn leaves.  Most years, we go from a lush green nursery in September to rows and rows of bare twigs by mid November without much fall color in between.  I couldn’t help but notice a stunning show of yellow from a group of sweetpepperbush (aka summersweet) in the shrub area today, however.  On a dingy autumn afternoon, they really brighten things up.

Clethra alnifolia, as botanists refer to itis a native North American plant that is endemic to Nantucket where it can be found growing in low-lying areas and at the edges of wetlands.  If grown in moist soil, it tends to sucker and form colonies over time.  However, this plant is well-behaved and very adaptable, doing well in most any island garden where average soil and even water is available.  It prefers full sun, but will flower in shade.   The overall look of these plants is a pleasant green, twiggy shrub with an upright, balloon-shaped habit.  They have medium green, rounded, ovate leaves with finely-toothed edges.  In mid summer, they produce loads of fragrant flowers that are reminiscent of small, skinny bottle brushes.  The native form of this plant generally has white flowers, but there are pink cultivars available, as well.  Beneficial insects like it just as much as we do; many species of butterflies, bees, wasps, flies and other flying insects frequent the plant while it is in flower during July and August.

Clethra can serve many uses in the landscape.  If planted in a row, they make a great informal hedge that doesn’t require much pruning to maintain a tight shape.  I’ve seen them used very well in mixed shrub borders with both native and ornamental plants.  They make natural companions to bayberry, arrowwood, groundsel and beach plum, but look just as well among ornamental plants like butterfly bushes, vitex, shrub roses and spiraea. They respond very well to pruning and can be maintained at a height of five feet or so with an annual pruning.  Some gardeners prefer to remove the spent flowers while others leave them on the plant to be covered up by the new growth in spring.

There are many cultivars available in the trade as well as the straight species:

Clethra alnifolia The species form of this shrub.  Generally grows 3-4′ wide and 6 or more feet tall.  White flowers.

‘Anne’s Bouquet’:  White flowers.  Average size.

‘Hummingbird’:  Compact, white-flowered form.  2-4′ wide and up to 5′ high.

‘Pink Spires’:  Pink-flowered form, average size.

‘Ruby Spice’:  Pink flowers, average size.

‘Rosea’:  Pink flowers.  Average size.

‘Sixteen Candles’:  Compact, white-flowered selection with white flowers.

‘Vanilla Spice’:  Proven Winners introduction.  White flowers, touted to be larger than most.  Average size.

Viburnum dilatatum

Viburnum ‘Michael Dodge’

During the season, Surfing Hydrangea is a very busy place!  In order to keep the nursery full, we are constantly bringing in the staple trees and shrubs that landscapers are using day in and day out.  But luckily,  Craig is a plant geek at heart, just like me, so he also stocks a wide variety of lesser-known plants.  Over the last few years, we’ve been delighted to see a dramatic uptick in sales of our native arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum).  Arrowwood is a great shrub that can be used in a variety of applications, like medium-sized hedges and naturalized screening on property lines.  If you like the look of arrowwood, but want to try something a little different with showier fruit, check out linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum).  



This East Asian native has white lace-cap flowers and showy fruit in the fall.  The rounded/oval, toothed leaves are generally lustrous deep green with a quilted look.  Like many viburnums, Viburnum dilatatum grows well in evenly moist soils with average organic matter.  Plants thrive in full sun or part shade.  We have offered several cultivars over the years, some with red fruit, and some yellow.  Although this plant is self-fruitful, much of the literature mentions fruit set is improved with multiple varieties planted in close proximity.

  • ‘Asian Beauty’ has vigorous upright habit (10′) with deep green, thick, shiny leaves during the growing season.  This variety has cherry red fruit.  Fall foliage is maroon.
  • Cardinal Candy tm aka ‘Henneke’ is a Proven Winners introduction.  This selection is listed as 5-6′ tall.  The large, bright red fruit contrast very well with the dark green leaves, and persist long after the leaves fall in autumn.  Cardinal Candy is purported to have a heavy fruit set without additional varieties planted for cross pollination.  Foliage is reddish orange in fall.
  • ‘Michael Dodge’ is a stand out among viburnum, with bright yellow fruit.  This plant is said to grow 5-6′ tall.  Best fruit set is observed when planted with other varieties for cross pollination.  Fall color is reddish/orange.  Choose this variety over ‘Xanthocarpum’, an inferior yellow-fruiting variety, according to Dr. Michael Dirr.
  • Tandoori Orange is the first orange-fruited variety of linden viburnum.  This Proven Winners selection is similar to Cardinal Candy tm, and a good pollinator for other linden viburnum selections.

We have some stocky field grown ‘Michael Dodge’ and ‘Asian Beauty’ on the ground as well as some nice container grown Cardinal Candy tm.  We’d be happy to show them to you.

Viburnum ‘Asian Beauty’
Viburnum Cardinal Candy tm








Regular Pruning of Inkberry

Inkberry, Ilex glabra, is a beautiful, rounded, evergreen shrub that grow 5 – 8′ tall.  It prefers full sun and evenly moist acidic soil, but does well in wet areas and light shade.  When properly pruned, inkberry can make a nice foundation plant or short hedge, but is best used in native screens and rain gardens, where it can be left to grow naturally with little intervention needed from the gardener.  Young plants are perfectly round, with leaves right to the ground.  As plants mature, however, the canopy tends to shade out the bottom portion of the plant and their lower branches can become bare and leggy.  Regular pruning is required to keep inkberry looking its’ best.

Most applications for inkberry call for a plant that is maintained at 3-4 feet.  Once they reach this size, they need to be pruned at least once a year to keep in bounds.  Shearing with hedge trimmers (when new growth has just hardened off in early summer) is the easiest way to prune rounded shrubs.  Although this approach takes the least amount of time, repeated cycles of shearing can make the surface of the plant very dense, shading out the lower branches.  I recommend doing a more thorough pruning procedure every other year to open up the plant.  More light penetration stimulates new growth at the base and keeps the plant healthier overall.  Should plants become overgrown and overly leggy, a renovation can be done during the dormant period in winter or early spring.  I’ve actually cut overgrown inkberry to the ground while dormant and had excellent results.

There are several objectives when doing regular pruning on inkberry:

  • To remove dead or damaged branches
  • To maintain the proper height and shape
  • To keep the plant green from the ground up, (not leggy)

Understanding the growth pattern of these plants helps the gardener when making pruning decisions.  Growth in the upper portion of inkberry plants occurs in whorls.  A whorl is a ring of new stems that grow around a central, upright stem. There are many dormant buds between whorls on bare portions of the stems, even on the oldest woody stems.

On off years, when plants are not sheared, follow these guidelines:

  1. Remove any dead or dying branches completely, where they meet healthy growth.
  2. Pinch out most of the previous seasons’ growth just above a whorl to thin out the surface and keep the plant at the best height.
  3. Most cuts are made in the previous season’s growth, but several cuts can also be made into older wood, to stimulate growth lower down.
  4. As plants age, some of the oldest branches can be removed entirely at ground level in favor of younger, more vigorous growth.

There are several varieties of Inkberry available in the trade.  The most common are ‘Compacta’ ‘Densa’ and ‘Shamrock’.  Of the three, ‘Shamrock’ is the most highly praised by Dr. Michael Dirr in his extensive text book Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.  

What’s Bugging My Boxwood?

Boxwoods are beautiful evergreen shrubs that have been in cultivation for hundreds of years – and with good reason.  We love that they are dependably deer resistant and serve so many useful purposes in the landscape.  We also love that they are easy to grow when planted in fertile, well-drained soil and protected from exposure.  An annual trim and a light feeding is usually all they require.  But boxwood plants aren’t free from problems.  Boxwood Psyllid, Boxwood Leaf-miner and Spider Mites can infest boxwood and keep them from looking their best.  Multiple growing seasons with a large infestation of leaf miner, in particular, will make boxwood look very unattractive and even decline in vigor.  If you have boxwood in your garden, it’s a good idea to keep on the lookout for these tiny bugs and begin managing them before they get out of control.


BOXWOOD LEAF MINERs are tiny orange, mosquito-like flies that live on and around boxwood plants.  In late May-Early June, the adults emerge, having overwintered inside the leaves of the host plant. These pests are not strong fliers, so they usually hover a few inches from the host plants.  Males and females emerge over a period of a week to 10 days and mate.  Each female deposits up to 30 eggs inside the tender new growth and then dies within a few hours.  Eggs hatch in a few weeks and the tiny orange larvae begin to feed on the tissue inside the leaf, causing a blister.  The larvae overwinter in the leaf and resume feeding in spring.  They pupate and then leave the blisters as adults, starting the process all over again.  Affected leaves become tan and papery, usually shedding by August.

These pests are easy enough to identify: look closely at the leaves between fall and late spring.  Blisters are evident in the leaves on the outside of the plant.  If the leaves are broken open, the larvae can be seen with the naked eye or with the aid of light magnification.  Populations can be managed by shearing off and discarding affected foliage before adults emerge in June.  Scout for adults every day during the time that Weigela blooms.  When adults are seen, spray the plants with a mild insecticide.  Since adults emerge over a period of a days, a few applications might be best to get the best control.  If July rolls around and you weren’t able shear or spray the adults, a stronger insecticide is needed to kill the larvae within the leaf.

BOXWOOD PSYLLIDS are small insects resembling thrips or aphids.  The adult stage has jumping legs and can spring out of the plants when disturbed.  Adults appear in June and lay eggs between the leaf scales of immature buds in mid summer.  The minute orange eggs overwinter there and hatch the following spring.  Yellowish nymphs emerge at bud break in April or May.  This stage has pointed mouth parts that are used to pierce the leaves and buds and suck out the sap.  Their feeding distorts the new growth, causing the leaves to cup.  The cupped leaves make a perfect shelter for the nymphs as they continue to feed and grow.  Nymphs secrete a filamentous wax that accumulates in and around the cupped foliage.  The wax clumps together in a fluffy mass that is easily blown into the air when the plants are brushed up against.

It’s easy to spot the presence of boxwood psyllid due to the conspicuous cupped foliage fluffy wax on the plants.  Although this pest causes distortion of the foliage, the overall health of the plants is seldom affected.  Because there is only one generation a year, it’s usually easy enough to control boxwood psyllid in a single season.  If control does become necessary, it is best accomplished by targeting the nymph stage.  Spray horticultural oil and/or insecticidal soap as new growth emerges.  If new damage is noted, prune out affected foliage and discard to decrease populations.

Established boxwood plants will often have SPIDER MITES.  The adults are miniscule, red/brown insects that vaguely resemble spiders.  The first generation hatches in May from eggs that have overwintered on the underside of the leaves.  The mites shed their outer skeleton several times as they grow into adults.  They produce a fine webbing that gathers the shed exoskeletons.  They have pointed mouthparts that pierce the leaf, allowing the mites to feed on the sap.  Feeding occurs on both sides of the leaves causing white to light green flecking.  Heavy infestations can cause yellowing and premature leaf drop.  Controlling spider mites generally takes several applications of horticultural oil early in summer, as they have multiple generations a year.

Identifying spider mites requires a little bit of detective work.  If any kind of stippling or flecking is evident on the surface of boxwood leaves, suspect mites.  Take a close look at the underside of the leaves.  The shed exoskeletons and webbing can be seen with the naked eye, but the insects are so small it’s very difficult to see them without magnification.  Pull a few affected leaves off the plant and tap them firmly on a white sheet of paper.  Any mites will fall off onto the paper and they are much easier to see on the white background.  Low populations of spider mites are often controlled by predatory insects in the environment naturally.  However, larger infestations may cause leaves to turn brown and fall and do warrant control.


Another Bluebeard to Love

Ten years ago, when I was still gardening full time, most gardens had at least a few shrubby Caryopteris x clandonensis cvs.  This drought-resistant sub-shrub has grey green, deer resistant foliage during the growing season and airy blue flowers from late summer into the fall.  They look great planted en masse, or as accents in perennial borders.  But these plants are not without their problems.  If not grown in well-drained soil, they can rot over the winter or succumb to phytophthora root rot diseases.  And even though they are rated for our zone, long periods of exceedingly cold temperatures over the winter can also severely damage or kill them.  But there is a new Caryopteris on the scene, Caryopteris divaricata.

Caropteris divaricata is a completely different species of this plant, native to the Himalayas.  These are herbaceous perennials, dying completely down to the ground in winter and re-emerging from the crown in late spring.  They prefer full sun and fertile, but well-drained soil.  The green or variegated foliage has a distinctive aroma when crushed, reminiscent of old asparagus or green peppers.  I believe this odor is what makes them so averse to deer.  Although they flower late in the summer/early fall, they definitely have their merit.  I’ve always felt that using some tall, late-blooming plants in the back of the border is a great way to extend interest late into the growing season.  When so many other plants are blooming like crazy in summer, the foliage of these plants allows the eye to rest a bit, which makes the overall composition more enjoyable.  We’ve stocked two cultivars in the past: ‘Blue Butterflies’ and ‘Snow Fairy’.

I planted a big group of ‘Blue Butterfiles’ in the back of our garden last year, and have been very impressed with how sturdy their stems are and the plants overall size.  Year two, they are easily 6′ tall, filling an area between two large Hydrangeas very effectively.  I did notice considerable self-seeding this spring, but the volunteers were easily uprooted when they germinated and weren’t any trouble.  The flowers are profuse and very pretty when they arrive in September, but certainly best enjoyed close up.


I also planted some ‘Snow Fairy‘ in a different spot so that I could compare them.  This plant has been a real star.  So much so, that I am planning to plant another group further down this year.  The best part of this selection is the splash of white in the foliage.  When other plants are beginning to look tired with the heat of August, this Caryopteris is coming into its own.  The mid-green leaves have a varying degree of variegation, giving the plant a bright fresh look.  ‘Snow Fairy’ is shorter in stature than ‘Blue Butterflies’, making it more versatile.  Ours are just beginning to flower at 4′ tall.


When there seem to be fewer and fewer plants that are reliably deer resistant, it’s nice to have another plant to add to your arsenal.  I’d highly recommend giving Caropteris divaricata a try.


Fabulous Ferns to Know and Grow

Being a professional gardener on Nantucket is a challenging career.  Most of our clients only spend a few months on the island during the summer.  Because the landscape as a whole must look fantastic for these few months, there is a lot of pressure on gardeners to keep the sunny border in full bloom from June until Labor day.  There are many ways this can be achieved, but it’s an ongoing process of planting, fertilizing, deadheading, staking, spraying various repellents and insecticides and replacing plants.  We battle the unpredictable weather, salty winds and never ending barrage of deer and rabbits who want to gobble up the flowers overnight.  Everything can be so much easier in the shade.  There is far less emphasis on COLOR! COLOR! COLOR!, allowing the gardener to focus more on combining textures to create a calmer atmosphere.  Astilbe, Hosta and Alchemilla are well-used in Nantucket’s shady gardens.  But for me, ferns are some of the most successful plants for the shade.

Ferns are wonderful, versatile plants for many reasons:

  • Most thrive in dead shade where many other plants simply won’t grow.
  • Many will grow in very wet/boggy soils.
  • Others tolerate the dryer conditions under the canopy of mature trees.
  • They are very low maintenance, only requiring a clean-up once a year.
  • They are seldom bothered by insects of any kind.
  • They combine easily with other shade-loving, broad-leafed plants like Hosta and Brunnera.
  • Some are even evergreen, providing four season interest.
  • And, unlike hosta, deer and rabbits seldom browse ferns.

We sell a wide variety of ferns at the nursery, but some of the most popular are:

LADY FERN, Athyrium felix-femina cvs This useful medium-sized fern (2-3′) grows best in fertile, moist soil with good drainage in light to dense shade.  It’s lacy fronds are a pleasant light green arising from a round clump.  It will tolerate full sun, with ample moisture, and is one of the few ferns that will thrive in the dry soils under large shade trees.  If grown in ideal conditions, lady fern will slowly form a colony that completely covers the ground.  Try ‘Lady in Red’ for a contrasting red stem.


JAPANESE PAINTED FERN, Athyrium nipponicum cvsThis small to medium-sized (18-24″), colorful fern is best grown in fertile, evenly moist soil in light to dense shade.  The most striking feature of these ferns are their purple and silver coloring which contrasts well with other shade plants.  These are best kept in dappled to full shade as they will scorch in the sun.  The most readily available cultivars are ‘Pictum’, ‘Branford Beauty’ and  ‘Ghost’ but ‘Burgundy Lace’ is also a stunning plant to try.


HAY-SCENTED FERN, Dennstaedita punctilobaThis tough small (to 2′), native fern is being spec’d more and more for large scale planting.  It grows best in moist, fertile, soils in light to dense shade. It’s upright to arching, lacy, triangular fronds are a pleasant light green.  If kept evenly moist, this is a fern that will tolerate full sun and poor soils.

AUTUMN FERNDryopteris erythrosoraThis is my favorite fern.  They grow 1-3′ tall, preferring rich, evenly moist soil and dappled light to full shade.  The young fronds emerge a coppery bronze and change to a glossy deep green as they mature.  New fronds continue to emerge throughout the growing season, so there is always some contrast between the young and mature fronds.  When they are happy, Autumn Ferns will spread to form a dense colony.  BONUS: these ferns are evergreen, and continue to look fresh long past frost.  Tidy them up in spring before new growth emerges to keep them looking their best.  ‘Brilliance’ is even showier than the species with brighter copper coloring

OSTRICH FERN, Matteuccia struthiopteris cvs:  Ostrich fern is a stately addition to shady gardens with minimal exposure.  These ferns have tall (3+’), medium/light green, erect, delicate fronds that are particularly suited to deep shade and moist fertile soils.  As they mature, the black root stock begins to rise above the soil level.  Never attempt to shorten the root stock, this procedure generally kills the plant.  Working with these ferns over the years, I’ve found them to burn out in August unless grown in deep shade, with constant moisture.  The fronds are also prone to easily breaking, so they are best used in the back of the shady garden, where they are less likely to get damaged.  Try ‘The King’ in areas where burning out is a concern; this cultivar seems to do better than the species in dappled light.


ROYAL FERN, Osmunda regalis:  These ferns are a New England native, performing well in moist, fertile soils in dappled to deep shade.  Depending on conditions, they will grow between 2 and 5′ tall with a loose spreading habit.  Royal ferns have a unique look among ferns; the fronds have leaflets that are much rounder than others, resembling plants in the pea family.  Their fertile fronds rise above the foliage, contrasting with the medium green leaves.  Like ostrich ferns, these ferns will form a root stalk as they age that should not be disturbed with pruning of any kind.

JAPANESE TASSEL FERN, Polystichum polyblepharum:  I’ve always admired this evergreen fern for it’s glossy green leaves and rounded habit.  In our garden it forms adjoining clumps that are 2′ tall and about 3′ wide.  We leave the foliage until spring to clean up, trimming it off before new fronds emerge.