Dwarf Crested Soft Shield Fern
"A fair smooth pathway you discern,
A length of green and open road --
As if it from a fountain flowed --
Winding away between the fern."
The Soft Shield Ferns (Polystichum setiferum & its varieties) have prominantly crested upright fronds. Both English & native North American varieties are common in nursery cultivation & have become very popular in Northwest gardens. They are sometimes called Hedge Ferns, but the specific variety shown here is P. s. "Congestum Cristata", the Dwarf Crested Soft Shield Fern, originally from England.
It is tall as dwarf varieties go, reaching a full foot of height, but that is one-third the height of regular P. setiferum. Some varieties die back in winter but the Dwarf Crested Soft Shield is an evergreen, thus occasionally sold as a "Christmas fern" since it still looks wonderful at mid-winter when many ferns have vanished. The photos on this page were taken in early February. So as you can see even toward the end of a winter of dormancy it remains tough with good appearance.
As with most ferns it wants moist well-drained & rich acidic humous. We planted ours to the left of a star magnolia & beneath a fountaining Franchett's cotoneaster, where it has considerable shade, although a bit of morning or afternoon sun does not harm this sturdy fern.
It has been slow-spreading with dense narrow growth habit. Because it is somewhat brittle, ours was set far back from the garden edge at the head of a little cliff wall, where it is not at risk of being knocked against. It stands out from other ferns for being an almost bluish grey-green.
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