Some gardeners mistakenly believe it is difficult to have a colorful shade garden. They give up, plant some ground cover, and call it a garden. But a beautiful shade garden is as easy as choosing plants with dramatic texture and vibrantly-colored foliage.
The Japanese painted fern is a perfect example of a plant with both of these characteristics. Botanically named Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ or Athyrium goeringianum ‘Pictum’ (depending on the source), it is a standout in the shade garden. Burgundy stems and veining highlight silvery, blue-green fronds.
Twelve to eighteen inches tall and wide, plants show off gently arching, lacy fronds and spread slowly by rhizomes. Japanese painted ferns thrive in moist, compost-amended, well-drained soil. Their roots rot in poorly-drained soil.
They prefer growing in part to full shade, but foliage color is best if fronds receive a bit of direct sun in the morning or late afternoon. Fronds exposed to hot sun in mid afternoon may burn.
Plants are easy to divide in early spring – great news for thrifty gardeners who love plants for free.
Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2004 by the Perennial Plant Association. It was chosen for its ability to grow in a wide variety of climates, low-maintenance needs, resistance to pests and diseases, and multiple seasons of interest in the garden.
Plant Japanese painted ferns in drifts in woodland gardens or as companions for other shade-loving annuals and perennials. They are also ideal candidates for shady container designs.
Start adding color to that bed of ground cover in your shade garden by planting some Japanese painted ferns. Garden with me!