When thinking of the Pacific Northwest, rain is usually the first thing people think of. But, the image that pops into my brain is moss hanging off of trees in a dense jungle of moisture and green. I also immediately think of a book I read as a child, Where the Red Fern Grows. I didn’t know what a fern was when I read the book but stomping through our many hiking trails I think the Northwest is where they were that fern would grow.
Now I have never seen a “Red Fern” in Washington but I have seen some other very cool varieties. One in particular that I see frequently is Blechnum spicant (Deer Fern). It is smaller than a sword fern but still evergreen. The fronds on them are more rounded than a sword fern. It will grow to about 24 inches in the shade, well-watered, or a bit smaller when grown in light sun. I love seeing a giant sword fern… in the wild, but for a garden where space is limited and native plants are your preference, Deer Fern is a perfect fit.
Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair Fern) is another Northwest Native that grows along coastal regions, especially. It is very delicate as it grows on thin black stems to about 12” before the canopy opens up. Moist soil is preferred, as long as it drains well. It is deciduous so you won’t see any foliage in the winter but once the temperature rises in spring, the new fiddle heads will start to push out in a soft pink color. Protect Maidenhair from high winds, due to its delicate stems.
Polypodium polypody (Leathery Leaf Fern): I did not know this was a native fern until about six months into working this fern into production. This fern has a waxy texture and grows on bluffs along the coastlines and oceanside forests. It took almost a year to get it to a full size in a quart sized container. But once mature, it was worth the wait. There are other polypodium varieties but this one grows much more compact and keeps it color much better.
Ferns are cool. We are fortunate enough to live in a place where they grow prolifically all around us. Take advantage of the uniqueness that our region offers us! Ferns (especially the native varieties) easily acclimate to most gardens and survive our harsh winters. They have been doing it much longer than we have. Remember that ferns that are hardy here prefer the shade. Some will grow in sunnier conditions but, like a true Northwesterner, filtered light would be best.