Fiddleheads, Ferns, Bluebells, and Bleeding Hearts

A classic spring combination consists of ferns, bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) and Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

Ostrich fern fiddleheads

One day all you see tightly curled fiddleheads emerging from the crowns.

ostrich ferns, bleeding heart, bluebells

The next thing you know, the ferns are reaching over 3 feet. In a few more weeks these Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) will top out at 4-5 feet.

Not long after we moved in, I removed the foundation planting of Japanese Yews (Taxus cuspidata) along the shady north side of the house, and replaced them with Ostrich Ferns. Japanese Yews are pretty boring, at least when kept as an unnaturally short rectangular hedge. Keeping them at 3 feet or less is really a form of cruelty to plants.

Of course, the disadvantage of Ostrich Ferns as a foundation planting is that they die back in winter.

bleeding heart, bluebells

I furnished the Ostrich Ferns with a variety of companions for each season. In spring, there are lots of Virginia Bluebells and Bleeding Hearts.

ostrich ferns, bluebells, bleeding heart 2

Ostrich Ferns spread aggressively, and sometimes I dig out several of the crowns.


ostrich ferns, brunnera, bleeding heart

When the Ostrich Ferns are about this size, before they have finished unfurling, they look to me like green caterpillars rearing up on their back legs.


Oh, and one other spring companion: False Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera macrophylla) Bleeding Hearts and Bluebells are ephemerals, but Brunnera’s foliage lasts all year long.

Usually Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) joins in the party, but this year they are late.

What are your favorite plant combinations for spring?

39 Comments on “Fiddleheads, Ferns, Bluebells, and Bleeding Hearts”

  1. Hello Jason, the pink and soft blue is a lovely colour combination. I’m a very simple gardener and haven’t mastered planting in combinations of plants yet (they tend to be in blocks) but we do have a stand of deep blue Siberian Iris against the backdrop of a Philadelphus Coronarius Aureus (golden mock orange), which is very striking.

  2. We have ostrich ferns too but they don’t get that tall. I think it is too hot and dry here for them. My favorite combo is Wild Columbine, Big yellow iris and appendaged waterleaf. They look so good together.

  3. What a great combination! Do you ever harvest your fiddleheads? I have a brunnera next to one of my bleeding hearts, but I’m going to have to move it as the bleeding heart is getting so big. I also have Leucojum that blooms at the same time and looks really nice with the bleeding hearts. I do have a yew somewhere, but I never have to prune it – the deer do it for me!

  4. Such memories. The only things missing are the lily of the valley that nestled beneath my mother’s ferns. Perhaps it’s too early for them. No matter, as the bleeding hearts and bluebells are perfect companions. We’re already losing our ephemerals, and summer is icumen in, so it’s great to see spring still blooming up there.

  5. I love those ferns too and enjoy watching them grow (almost literally!) in spring. I found a delightful combination by chance on the shady side of my house: Brunnera planted next to a deep brown Heuchera. The blue flowers and dark reddish brown foliage of the Heuchera are so striking. I think the Heuchera was planted out from a pot last autumn so I had no idea at the time how good it would look, and I intend to use that combination again soon. 🙂

  6. You REMOVED yews?! Oh my! Are they common there? I like them so much that it would be difficult for me to remove any. If they were in bad condition, I would want to renovate them. Our native yew is very rare too, but it is not very pretty anyway. (I hate when I work with an ugly plant that I can not cut down because it is too cool.)

  7. What a lovely early combination. I find ferns invasive too, if mine get a foothold they are impossible to dig up. Gosh, the difference a few weeks make!
    Just loved this….green caterpillars rearing up on their back legs…YES!

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