An early summer container display with chartreuse ferns and grasses
Gardener Jacky Mills captures some of the lightness of early summer with a display using ferns and grasses. Words Jacky Mills, Photographs Andrew Montgomery
The intense green known as chartreuse, because of its resemblance to the French liqueur, is one of a dozen or more distinct green hues appearing in the landscape at this time of year. It’s the colour of Melica altissima ‘Alba’, one of my favourite grasses. Its fresh, green, gently arching foliage is topped with white flowers resembling floating pearls of arborio rice. It is impossible not to want to run your hands through it as you pass.
How to achieve the look
Raising this chunky, square, stone urn on to a pedestal gave it immediate gravitas, and the simple planting scheme completely transformed the dark, neglected greenhouse. The grass was teamed with several lacy maidenhair ferns and the young fronds of a single Clinton’s wood fern, which provided a perfect colour match. If more structure is required, Melica combines well with many perennials. Try it with the white-flowered form of Geranium robertianum or the rich purple Geranium phaeum ‘Rothbury Ruby’. For a greater contrast, use the narrow-leaved Hosta lancifolia or a Polygonatum hybrid. This arrangement would also look at home in a modern Terrazzo planter.
Using a loam-based compost and well-rotted leaf mould, this combination copes with full or partial shade. As Melica altissima is a deciduous perennial grass, cut the foliage back in late February to tidy the plants up. Although a prolific self-seeder, unwanted seedlings are easily removed when young. The two ferns require moist but well-drained soil. In drier situations, try the common Polypodium vulgare instead of the sturdy fronds of Dryopteris clintoniana. Adiantum venustum spreads by creeping rhizomes, so can be propagated by division. Cutting back the old fronds in late February will reveal the new copper-coloured ones unfurling before they turn a lush, spring green.
1 Dryopteris clintoniana A semi-evergreen hybrid fern, with broad pinnate fronds. 75-90cm.
2 Melica altissima ‘Alba’ Deciduous, ornamental perennial grass. 40-50cm. April to October.
3 Adiantum venustum A good ground-cover plant for a woodland garden. 15-30cm. AGM.
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