The Eruption of the Ferns

We’ve mostly gotten enough rain for the ferns. There are two very different ferns in this yard: the lady fern is small and well behaved, while the ostrich fern is big and…enthusiastic.

Lady Fern

Last year’s leaves that are mulching the rain garden are a key to this fern’s size. Each of these small, erupting ferns could just about be covered by the oak leaf in the lower right-hand corner of the photograph below.

Lady fern coming up through overwintered leaves. The fiddleheads are tiny, but at least two are visible to the right of the unfurling pale green fronds. Photographed on April 19, 2024.

By mid-May, the plants are a much grassier green, but still light. They are a great contrasting color and texture.

A small swath of lady ferns live under the redbud in the rain garden. Photographed on May 17, 2024.

The lady ferns seem to stay nice all the way though the growing season. Being in a rain garden may be what makes that possible.

Ostrich Ferns

This year, the late winter display from the ostrich ferns consisted of fertile fronds.

Fertile fronds of the ostrich fern backlit by the late afternoon sun. Photographed on April 8, 2024.

Within a week and a half, fiddleheads appeared.

Ostrich fern fiddleheads appear as the trees drop spent flowers and seed that did not set. Photographed on April 19, 2024.

In another week and a half, these ferns look like what many people expect ferns to look like. They are 1–1 ½ feet tall, and strongly vertical. It does not look like it now, but in another week these ferns will really cast too much shade for the crested irises, unless they are at the edge of the bed where some sun will hit for a few hours midday as summer approaches. 

Looking at the west side of the planter: The ostrich ferns live on the north side of the house, with a few crested iris among them. A few ferns have gotten into the planter via their rhizomes. Photographed on May 1, 2024.

Another week passes, and the ostrich ferns are over a foot taller and filling in all the available space. The plants have taken on a shape closer to an ice cream cone standing on its tip.

Looking at the northwest corner of the planter: The ostrich ferns approaching their final height. There are at least two Baptisia at the northwest corner, with extensive root systems that seem to keep the ostrich ferns in check. Further east, in the lower left-hand corner, the alpine columbines are starting to bloom. Photographed on May 8, 2024.

These ferns will look nice as long as the water holds out. By August or September, this fern bed is usually more or less flattened  and a little scruffy.