In the Middle Ages, ferns were planted in herb gardens to ward off evil spirits. Nowadays, these green fronds lend gardens their own magic and astound us with their incredible diversity.
A world of riddles and myths
Because ferns propagate unusually, they have always fired the imagination of onlookers. Early on, they became known as medicinal plants with magical uses. Even up to the middle of the 19th century, all kinds of theories abounded about these mythical primaeval plants which can reproduce without flowers and, primarily, without forming seeds.
Only modern technology lifted the lid on the secret they had kept for over 350 million years. Leipzig-based botanist, Wilhelm Hofmeister, used a high resolution microscope to discover tiny brown pits which turned out to be responsible for their previously mysterious proliferation. Instead of seeds, they use spores which form an inconspicuous prothallus with male and female organs. If the spores get sufficient water, insemination begins and a new fern can grow. Moreover: The ancestors of ferns, which were then still plants the size of trees in the middle of vast forests, provided, together with other plants, the basis for our coal deposits. Today's ferns - up to 12,000 varieties worldwide of which about 200 are found in Central Europe - are still only a humble remainder of the many varieties which once existed.
Mysterious and delicate
With their fan-shaped growth and, often, multiple feathered fronds, ferns have an attractive calming influence in gardens, creating a mysterious note among shade-loving herbaceous plants such as goat's beard, Dicentra and aconites. Wrongly, these typical wood dwellers are often made to eke out a shady existence in secluded corners of the garden: Even though they are decorative, diverse, and sometimes display an amazing range of colours. Whilst the fronds of the golden male fern are golden brown and sheathed in fur, the handsome royal fern makes its presence known with its rust brown spore fronds, which are similar to flower spikes. If you combine bamboo, verbascum or heuchera with attractive ferns, you get an airy and light combination which gives even the dullest garden a fairytale aura.