There’s nothing more beautiful to me than a house with a front porch dotted with large, flowing ferns. I’m talking about the really big hanging baskets where the fronds dangle way down. What a truly classic look! But ferns also make great plants for indoor and outdoor gardening.

Boston fern

Thanks to its drooping habit, the classic Boston fern is ideal for hanging baskets.

Photo Credit: Agri-Starts II, Inc.

Holly fern

The holly fern is the toughest fern for the landscape.

Photo Credit: Agri-Starts II, Inc.

Japanese painted fern

Japanese painted fern was named the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Photo Credit: Agri-Starts II, Inc.

White rabbit’s foot fern

The white rabbit’s foot fern has “feet” that creep over the container’s sides.

Photo Credit: Agri-Starts II, Inc.

There are up to 12,000 species of ferns in the world today, and they work well in almost any gardening situation. These plants also stand out, thanks to their variety of shapes and colors. (Most ferns that we’re used to seeing are green, but some have beautiful red, silver or even variegated leaves.)

Grown largely for their lovely and interesting foliage, ferns don’t flower. They reproduce by the spores that form directly on the undersides of their fronds (another word for “leaves”). Fronds vary greatly in size: The largest tree ferns have 10-foot-long fronds, while smaller houseplant ferns can have fronds measuring only inches long.

When it comes to ferns as houseplants, the standard of the industry is the Boston or sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’). It’s also the prettiest fern in hanging baskets, thanks to its drooping habit, and it’s less prone to leaf drop. A new exciting variegated version is out now called ‘Tiger Fern’. It packs a punch with its great leaves, striped with dark green and lime green.

One of my all-time hanging basket favorites – and a popular choice for children – is the white rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia tyermannii). This beautiful plant has silvery-white, fuzzy “feet” (stems or rhizomes) that creep outside of whatever container it’s grown in. And for a softer look, try lacy paw (Davalia fejeensis). It has an airy and fresh appearance, with very delicate fronds.

For gardening outside, a fern’s location and water requirements mainly determine what works best. A standout for shady gardens is autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), thanks to its unusual coppery color on young spring fronds. The plant reaches 18 inches tall and is hardy in zones 5-9. Looking for striking foliage in the garden? Try the variegated East Indian holly fern (Arachniodes simplicior ‘Variegata’). This shade lover has stiff, dark glossy-green fronds with a rare contrasting yellow stripe. The plant grows 24 inches tall and is hardy in zones 7-10.

The Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) is extremely beautiful and hardy in the landscape in zones 4-9. Named the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association, this fern offers showy, metallic-silver fronds and reaches 20 inches tall. But the toughest fern for landscape use is the very durable 30-inch-tall holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum). Hardy in zones 6-10, it’s exceedingly popular due to its dark green, leathery fronds.

The next time you’re looking for a new low-maintenance plant for your home, front porch or a shady spot in your garden, consider one of these great selections. You won’t be disappointed.