Right about this time, when we’re all about the garden in its party dress, it’s not a bad idea to calm down, and focus instead on ways in which your garden can really sing for its supper over the winter. Green is never not a good choice for a container (or anywhere else) and in fact, if you can bear to step away from the colour, the payback will be sophistication and serenity in spades.
Evergreen ferns are my answer; the opposite of formal or severe, and bringing a jungly vibe to a space reminiscent of warmer climes. Add to this the fact that all of them (evergreen or deciduous) grow best in semi- or full shade, and you have the perfect plant to lush up the darker patches of your plot.
So what are the best ferns for containers? Well, the answer is the fern you love the most, because they grow very well in a pot, as long as you don’t let them dry out. They don’t have a particularly deep root run, so although they look best in large pots, which raise them up a bit, you don’t actually need to fill the whole thing with compost - you can ‘stuff’ the bottom of the pot with an old upturned plastic container, or with other used packing materials, making for an altogether lighter container. Here are my personal favourites - all but one is evergreen.
Asplenium scolopendrium is an absolute wonder for difficult, dark areas (it will grow in cracks in a wall, given enough moisture). Its leaves are un-cut and slightly wavy at their margins and at 18ins or so, it is smallish, so perfect for little crevices.
Polypodium vulgare has very pretty, almost lacy fronds and grows up to 20ins or so. It’s a British native too.
Rather more furry-looking but no less beauteous for that are the Polystichums. P. setiferum, with its arching fronds and soft texture will get to 23ins.
Dryopteris felix-mas, (header photo) perhaps my favourite fern for winter, isn’t even properly evergreen (its leaves are mostly gone by the end of December, leaving promising furry brown ‘knuckles’ in the earth, waiting to unfurl), but is gorgeous enough, at a stately 3ft, and with spectacular filigree fronds, to make that loss more than worth it.
Dicksonia antarctica - the ultimate if you can afford to splash out on something really special, and perfectly possible in a container as long as you take care with keeping it healthy. They are not hardy over the winter so need wrapping up (unless your garden is super-sheltered) but just one of these will add lush, jungly gravitas to any terrace or garden. I don’t have a photo of this because I am still saving up for one (or twelve).
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