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Make your landscape glow with ferns

The summer slump of this year’s extended heat wave ended with the return of delightful weather last weekend that brought folks out to see what’s going on in the landscape.

And among the plants that seem to have made it through without too much trouble are the hardy ferns, those wonderful, ancient plants that are both lovely and tough.

Some, such as the maidenhair, are so delicate in appearance that you can’t imagine how it stands up so well to the torment of our heat.

But it and the others did well and now we have many months ahead to enjoy their lush beauty.

Their green loveliness is often underrated as gardeners strive for maximum color in flowerbeds with the addition of many tones of red, pink, purple, gold and yellow, the famed colors of summer.

But green is not just a background or accessory color. It is meant to shine, and that it does in the heat of summer, just when you need its cooling influence the most.

Hardy ferns make long-lasting assets that seem to survive whatever happens. This includes hot summers, years of serious drought and general neglect.

Textures vary with the kind of fern. The hardy maidenhair fern is so frothy and delicate one tends to think it should be in a protected zone, perhaps under glass. Still it does well outdoors – as hardy ferns have done for eons around the world. It requires good soil, light shade and regular watering in dry weather.

Combine it with some of the shorter wildflowers, and the look is elegant. Fronds will die down through the winter. Two kinds of ferns are called maidenhair. One is hardy, which is what you want for permanent planting outdoors; the second is tropical, often sold in hanging baskets and meant to be brought indoors in cold weather.

Autumn ferns certainly rank among the best choices among the hardy ferns, thanks to their frothy, elegant foliage that brings some unexpected seasonal color with it. In spring, the new fronds have touches of copper, pink and yellow before turning solid green for summer. In late autumn, the fronds take on a lovely shade of golden brown that looks beautiful at that time of year. The autumn fern works well in the difficult environment of dry shade, provided you water it in the early days after planting and in the driest weather of the hot summer.

A third good choice is the cinnamon fern, and this is a plant for the background, perhaps along a fence. It can reach an impressive 4 feet in dampish soil. It will tolerate sun as well as shade and that makes it a different sort of hardy ferns because most require shade to light shade for best growth.

These are just three of the many choices in hardy ferns. Each is beautiful in a different way, so there seems to be something for all tastes.

Ask Nancy

Q. I saw some moonvines for sale and wonder if it is still good to plant them.

A. Yes, moonvines, which tend to take until late summer to start blooming, should look good and bloom well into autumn. They are a nice asset to have now that evenings are getting cooler and it is pleasant to sit outdoors.

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