Though native plants are sometimes considered appropriate only for informal design styles, there’s no reason for this. Style, and formality or informality, have more to do with management than with plant selection.
Ferns are among the most adaptable and durable possibilities for the herbaceous layer. Though many are deciduous, a few including marginal shield fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) are fully evergreen. Two running species, hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) and New York fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis), can be used to create highly durable herbaceous layers at a large or a relatively small scale. Ferns come about as close to being immune to deer damage as any group of native plants in eastern North America.
The vegetation edging along this bluestone walk is mostly white wood aster (Aster divaricatus). A quick trimming with hand shears twice over the course of the growing season keeps this native aster looking neat enough for most eyes.
Native mayapples dominate the spring herbaceous layer on a wooded slope above an outdoor dining area at Patterns, the private residence of Governor and Mrs. Pierre S. du Pont in Delaware. Patterns includes an inspired mix of informal and highly formal plantings.
In this late-November image, Christmas ferns function as an evergreen edge defining a woodland path.
In lieu of lawn, sunlit sweeps of hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) and New York fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis) cover the landscape in front of Russ Jones’ historic Pennsylvania cabin.
All images by Rick Darke.
Rick Darke is a landscape design consultant, author, lecturer, and photographer based in Pennsylvania who blends art, ecology, and cultural geography in the creation and conservation of livable landscapes. Darke has studied North American plants in their habitats for over three decades, and his research and lectures have taken him to Africa, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, and northern Europe. His books include The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes, The American Woodland Garden, and In Harmony with Nature. You may also be interested in the author’s own Web site, RickDarke.com.
Doug Tallamy is currently professor and chair of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, where he has taught insect taxonomy, behavioral ecology, and other subjects. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. Doug won the Silver Medal from the Garden Writer’s Association for his book, Bringing Nature Home. You may also be interested in the author’s own Web site, plantanative.com.
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“Two giants of the natural gardening world, Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy, have collaborated on their best work yet.”—The New York Times