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Add some green to your flower beds

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.
WILDFLOWERS_01
JOHN D. SIMMONS - OBSERVER FILE PHOTO
One of the most interesting aspects of hardy ferns is the unfolding of new fronds called fiddleheads, a beautiful touch to a home garden.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. Is it too late to sow seeds for the flower garden?

    A. It is not too late for summer flowers, such as marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums and cosmos, which grow rapidly in warm soil and air temperature. Sow these seeds where you intend them to grow and bloom. Pay attention to the soil so that it does not dry out during the critical days of germination and while the seedlings are very young and vulnerable.


The delightful weather and lengthening days of May almost demand our presence outdoors, where the landscape beckons for more, more flowers. So filled are the garden centers with many kinds of beautiful flowers that it is tempting to look only at them.

But just as a flower arrangement indoors isn’t really complete without green foliage to set off the colors, neither is a flowerbed done without some green accents.

This is reasonably easy to accomplish by incorporating hardy ferns into flower beds. These are remarkably beautiful, long-lasting and easy to grow perennials that accomplish several important things in a flowerbed. And you can set them out now in those blank spaces where you wondered what to put there.

First, they add a cool and calming effect to the riot of color that erupts as the summer flowerbed comes into full bloom.

Second, they add great texture, with their frilly or serrated edges – a welcome contrast to the typically round shape of summer flowers such as zinnias, vinca, impatiens and marigolds.

Third, they stay with you. Summer’s bedding plants get replaced by pansies in the fall, and the cycle of replanting continues. But ferns stick with you. After all, they have been around for eons.

While ferns are commonly thought of as plants of a damp, dark place, many popular ones in the marketplace are suited for the more typical shady spot as well as open sunshine. For example, the popular evergreen autumn fern will take the typical open sunshine of a home landscape where trees and grass moderate the heat. The royal fern, sword fern and male fern will also tolerate sun in a landscape, just not in the boiling-hot median of an interstate highway.

For shady beds, where impatiens, begonias and hostas thrive, the hardy lady fern, holly fern, Christmas fern, maidenhair fern and shield fern can be excellent choices. All are quite beautiful.

Ferns prosper in good soil, which is another reason they make a top choice for flowerbeds, where gardeners take the time to dig it well and improve it with moisture-holding compost. The autumn fern will tolerate a bit of dryness, but most ferns prosper in the same amount of gentle dampness as do bedding plants.

You won’t need too many because this is intended to be just a touch of green to offset the big bang of color. Just scatter them here and there – rather randomly – for an informal effect. And pay attention to the mature height stated on the plant label. You want something that is a bit lower or a bit taller than your bedding plants, not something drastically different.

Given many choices, opt for several different kinds, rather than all-the-same. This will help you see the differences in texture, shape and even color that hardy ferns bring to the landscape. You may eventually settle on one that becomes the favorite. You may come to see them as essential to your flowerbeds as begonias or zinnias.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com
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