Garden Photo of the Day

Return to the Fern Fairway

Making the most of a narrow, shady space

silver and purple fern

GPOD regular Cherry Ong (Cherry’s Containers Day 1 and A Clean Slate Transformed) is inviting us back to her garden in Richmond, British Columbia.

It is a bit cold here still right now, so half of my annuals are stored in the garage (sadly). Hope it warms up, but we’ve had some years where the summer stayed cool and therefore was disappointing for summer gardening with annuals. Fingers crossed that won’t be the case this year, as I have crossed over to the other side and planted dahlias and a rose for the first time ever. (Wish me luck!).

Thought I would send some spring photos of the Fern Fairway. I sent some photos of this strip in 2019 (The Fern Fairway).

The Fern Fairway is a very narrow side yard, about 50 feet long and 3 feet across, with only 14 inches of gravel for planting, or more accurately, sitting containers on. I developed this side garden out of desperation for gardening space! Given the dimensions, the area remains challenging to photograph.

I’ve made some costly mistakes planting in this full shade corridor—namely, the demise of one of my full moon maples (Acer japonicum, Zones 5–7). I situated them in the middle of the corridor more for aesthetics rather than consideration of their needs, and they surely showed their misery in 2020. Fortunately, the other has bounced back after relocation and repotting. I have two Japanese maples welcoming visitors to the strip on the north (Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’, Zones 5–9) and the south ends (Acer palmatum ‘Ariadne’).

The middle of the strip has mostly shorter plants now given the limited lighting, and I continue to study how the perennials behave in order to provide them with the best growing conditions.

variegated hosta with a fernA hand-me-down hosta identified as Hosta ‘Fire and Ice’ (Zones 3–9) by my social media gardening friends and tatting fern (Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’, Zones 4–8) are among the earlier spring risers.

large light green fernI’ve had this giant tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum, Zones 5–8) growing in a landscaper pot for many years, and it seems to be happy.

View of a garden through Japanese maple leavesAcer palmatum ‘Ariadne’ (Zones 5–9) on the south end of the Fern Fairway.

silver and purple fernA painted fern to love: Athyrium niponicum ‘Regal Red’ (Zones 4–9)

silver fern growing next to an orange glass mushroomA happy resident of the Fern Fairway even before it was born: Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (Zones 3–8). The glass mushroom is the beautiful work of Andrew Holmberg, a Portland glass artist. I finally met him at Sorticulture in Everett, Washington, one year and got to see all his amazing garden glass.

criss-cross fernCriss-cross fern, or Athyrium filix-femina Dre’s Dagger (Zones 4–8) is one of the coolest ferns ever! The shrub behind it is Leucothoe fontanesiana (Zones 5–8). I have found that it performs well under this full-shade garden, though it would definitely be more beautiful in a sunny situation. From a color standpoint, dotting the strip with gold-foliaged ornamental grass helps to brighten the area and acts as a nice foil for all the other foliage. I’m thankful for all the divisions from my Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ (Zones 5–9), Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’ (Zones 5–8), and Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’ (Zones 5–9). I’ve tried to incorporate Carex siderosticha ‘Banana Boat’ (Zones 5–9), but it is a slow grower.

plant with frilled leaves in a small ceramic potA newer and more exciting addition to the strip is Farfugium japonicum ‘Shishi Botan’ (Zones 7–10). It made it through winter, so hopefully it’ll be a happy resident in the space for many years to come.

light green fern with small delicate foliageNature knits the best sweater! I’ll definitely be moving this soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum ‘Plumosomultilobum’, Zones 6–8) to a brighter location this year.

bright green ferns along a fenceFeathery is fabulous! Free is also fabulous! This Adiantum pedatum (Zones 3–8) is a division from the garden.

large hosta with crinkled leaves growing with a fernCorrugation is a beautiful thing! This Hosta sieboldiana ‘Big Daddy’ (Zones 3–9) used to be a resident in the back garden. It was doing well and suddenly declined. I dug it out and transferred it to a container. It seems to have bounced back and now is a newer resident of the Fern Fairway. It makes a great foil for the tassels of the ‘Dre’s Dagger’.

Looking down a narrow space lined with plants in front of a wooden fenceIt is difficult to photograph the long, narrow space of the Fern Fairway.

A shrub with small red flower budsOne of the benefits of having a protected side garden is storing borderline hardy perennials during the winter. It seems this crinodendron (Crinodendron hookerianum, Zones 9–11) is happy where it is. I do try to move it to a sunnier locale during spring to show off its flowers and to allow the plant to get some sun.

If you want to see more of Cherry’s beautiful garden, check out her instagram:


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View Comments


  1. shegardens 06/07/2021

    Beautiful photos. Gorgeous ferns!

    1. perenniallycrazy 06/07/2021

      Thank you.

  2. User avater
    simplesue 06/07/2021

    I've never seen anyone so successfully grow a Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum, as yours. So inspiring I saved the photo!
    You have a very impressive assortment of unusual ferns, some of which I've never seen before such as your (Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’, so strange and beautiful!
    I love that you have utilized a long narrow 3 foot wide shaded space to garden in, instead of ignoring it.
    And I do love a garden with a name- Fern Fairway is a good name!
    Well done!

    1. perenniallycrazy 06/07/2021

      Thank you SimpleSue. Frizelliae is one the oldest ferns in the Fairway -had to have it the first time I saw it at the nursery! As for Pedatum, I would gladly give you a division if we were neighbors. The name Fern Fairway was coined by my hubby and there’s a story behind the name but too long to tell you today. Glad you like the’s a real treat to garden in a tiny space.

  3. annek 06/07/2021

    Absolutely fabulous, Cherry! The photos have a professional quality and I love reading your comments after each photo. Thanks for identifying everything as well. You’re a master!

    1. perenniallycrazy 06/07/2021

      Thank you Kielian. How’s your garden these days? Hope we will see some photos this year.

  4. User avater
    treasuresmom 06/07/2021

    Love all your ferns.

    1. perenniallycrazy 06/07/2021

      Thank you - I didn’t realize till a few years ago how popular ferns are with many gardeners. They are very easy and beautiful to grow.

  5. Rebeccazone7 06/07/2021

    I'm so glad I'm not the only one planting stuff in the wrong place and paying the price. I love the painted fern and keep adding it to pots, as it shows off the color of annuals. Your ferns are lovely and am a recent convert that has as usual become addicted to them. Your soft shield fern is lovely and one I will be trying to find. Your photos have inspired me to ignore our heat and at least deadhead.

  6. btucker9675 06/07/2021

    Tatting fern! Your Fern Fairway is magical - thank you for sharing.

  7. user-7007672 06/07/2021

    As always, Cherry, your Fern Fairway photographs and descriptions are lush. I suggested the name to my daughter for a newly-developing part of her garden. Hoping border restrictions relax so we can see each other’s gardens in near future,

  8. fromvirginia 06/15/2021

    So inspiring! I’m awed by how skillfully you’ve utilized the space and the rich variety of unusual ferns. Beautiful!

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