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#BotanistLens: Paired Perfectly, Wood Ferns and Toad Lilies

Woodland gardens have room for many plants that can tolerate deep shade, yet create interest and have a lasting impact even within the thickets of canopy layers. Let's look at two plants that always work well when paired together. Ferns and toad lilies are almost a perfect couple for a dappled shade or deep shade woodland garden.

I got my first introduction to Toad lilies (Tricyritis sps.) at Quarryhill Botanical Gardens, Sonoma, CA where I worked hands on with numerous of their Asian species. The deep 'quarries' in the gardens were filled with orchid-like flowers that gave an excellent backdrop to the dense canopy of trees and the rolling hills of Sonoma in the backdrop. Tricyritis is an Asian species, which has stems with an arching habit, slender leaves, and one of the most intricate flowers.

Tricyritis comes from the Greek word "three" and "kyrtos" for bulging sac/nectaries found at the base of the tepals. As intricate and beautiful as this flower is, the common name "toad lily" doesn't do any justice to it. But the thickly speckled tepals and bulging sacs at the base might be a reason for the reference to toads. They like moist soils but not too wet like a bog. To create an impact in the woodland gardens, these could be planted where the flowers could be enjoyed best at eye level, for they are one of its best features and unlike any other lily flower.

Ferns are of course one of the best ground covers for woodland gardens. Marginal fern "Dryopteris" is one of the most ornate ferns, due to its large compound leaves. Both toad lilies and ferns can self spread and don't need any cutting back. They are almost maintenance free once paired together in the right spot. Even though the marginal fern is a native, its leathery leaf does give an exotic appearance and pairs well with the toad lilies. Oak leaf litter is best for both of these plants, and they do prefer wind protected woodlands.

Toad lilies and marginal ferns, both being perennial and with the same habit (moist), when paired together can make a lasting impression. The fern gives a good backdrop to the deeply speckled Tricyritis flowers, and both can paint an artistic canvas as thick ground covers in the otherwise deep dull shade of woodland gardens in late summer.

Companion planting is one of the garden design principles that sometimes is more commonly applied only for vegetable plants. But there are many annual, perennial as well as canopy layering woodland garden design tricks when it comes to companion plantings. When applied correctly, one can create artistic as well as sustainable landscapes. Read on more next week to learn more about few other companion planting garden designs found at London Town's woodland gardens!

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