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Create a refuge from the heat with these perfect plants
There’s a lot of razzmatazz out in the garden during the gloriously long days of summer. But when temperatures soar, keeping cool suddenly feels more desirable. Plants are amazing beasts that have the ability to cool the air around them. This applies both indoors and out. Do you recognise the family of plants from which the unfurling greenery is emerging?
Even thinking about them makes you feel cool.
Cover the soil
Heuchera (above) are great groundcovering plants too. There are evergreen and deciduous varieties.
If you decide that fabulous ferns or other groundcover plants are for you, consider the following factors before choosing a species:
Are you planting in a damp situation? Wet, even?
Is it shady or sunny?
If the area is under other plants or near tree roots, is it dry shade?
Do you want evergreen or deciduous ferns?
How tall would you like your ferns to grow?
Do you want them to provide architectural interest or an understated carpet-covering?
Here’s some recommendations for foliage groundcover plants:
1: Delightful damp-lovers:
Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata The King’ is a stately cultivar of the native fern Dryopteris affinis and it’s semi-evergreen, in that it retains most of its leaves in the winter, but not all. Young fronds are golden lime and as they mature the colour changes to fresh, mid green, it reaches a height of around 90cms.
Osmunda regalis is another UK native and this can cope with just about any amount of moisture. It is happy even in full sun (provided the soil doesn’t dry out). It has an upright shade and produces good autumn russet colour before losing its fronds in winter.
If you have a sunny spot, you’ll need to provide ample water for ferns. There are three Osmunda species, all of which can cope with full sunshine for at least part of the day.
Then there’s the ‘semi-desert’ ferns such as Cheilanthes lanosa, (pictured below) which can easily cope with full sun and dry soil. The ‘hairy lip fern’ is known as such because the stalk and midrib of the fronds are covered in long hairs, hence their tolerance to drought. They’re not fully hardy here in the UK, however and will need winter protection.
Every hardy UK fern would prefer some sort of moisture, but some can cope with dry shade once they are fully established. These include Polystichum setiferum which will grow to about 70cm tall and Dryopteris cristata ‘The King’. Polypodium vulgare (pictured below) is another dry-tolerant option, in fact this evergreen native is one of the most versatile of all. It forms a diminutive, 30cm high mound of dark, evergreen fronds with a slight sheen.
These provide year-round interest and there are many delightful varieties. They include Cyrtomium fortunei, a range of different Polystichum (pictured below), many different Dryopteris, Blechnum spicant, and the stately Woodwardia fimbriata, to name but a few.
There’s probably no better known or loved tall fern that Dicksonia antarctica, the tree fern. They can grow to three or more metres high, with a similar spread, but very, very slowly! Few plants beat the architectural merits of this ancient giant which has a tree-like stem, topped with spreading fronds.
The common ostrich fern, Matteucia struthiopteris is also well-loved for its structural, shuttlecock or vase-shape. These fresh green, deciduous ferns can grow to 1.5m tall during summer . Even larger is the Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis, which reaches heights of up to 2m. It is, indeed, regal, with feathery fronds and a tall, rounded personality.
Low, mounding plants that look effective when planted in large numbers include the oak fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris (pictured below) which provides a goldish-green, uplifting cover in shady areas, lightening up dark places with ease. Then there’s that beautiful Blechnum which is oh-so-versatile; various Polystichum, Athyrium and Adiantum, to name but a few. And don’t forget grasses such as the wonderful Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa, in all its various, indisputably wonderful forms.