Fans of Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum var pictum, will be pleased to know that a silver cousin is now available. ‘Ghost’ is a cross between Lady Fern (A. felix-femina) and Japanese painted fern. Its developer, Nancy Swell, is an amateur horticulturist, and calls herself a “fern fernatic”. She grows and propagates hardy ferns in her garden in Richmond, Virginia. ‘Ghost’ is a sterile cross and can only be propagated by division which, as we all know, is illegal with patented plants.
‘Ghost’ has a more upright growth habit than the Japanese painted fern and is larger. It may reach 2-3 feet in height while Japanese painted fern is usually smaller only occasionally, reaching the maximum of 18 inches that is specified in its growth habits. It grows to a width of 18-24 inches with an average growth rate. The plant produces such thick rhizomes that it is very drought tolerant once it becomes established. It is not, however, very tolerant of excessive sun. It will grow in deep shade to dappled sunlight. The plant is hardy to zone 4 and is not particular about soil but will grow best in slightly acid organic soil that is evenly moist.
Like Japanese painted fern, ‘Ghost’ is grown mostly for its color. The fronds are a silvery- grey that are almost luminous in a shaded area. For best leaf color, a situation that receives dappled sun is advised. The color is finest in early spring. Too much sun will turn the leaves to a silvery green. The only color on the frond is a maroon midrib.
‘Ghost’ makes a wonderful ground cover for shaded areas or under trees. It also combines well with other plants mixing well with both green and blue leafed plants. Suggestions are blue hostas, epimedium and false Solomon’s seal as well as a focal point for a fern garden. Other possibilities are combining them with gold leafed hostas for a silver and gold garden or with huecheras as a background for their more colorful foliage.
‘Ghost’ is available at Wayside Gardens and White Flower Farm through their catalogues. There are a number of other online catalogues that carry ‘Ghost’ although our favorite, Bluestone Perennials, doesn’t yet stock it.