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Groundcover needn't be boring
Heuchera are the eye-candy of the low-level planting storey and these stunners have enjoyed a gradual rise in the popularity stakes over the last few years. There are now very few gardens that haven’t managed to find room for this colourful foliage plant. It’s not difficult to see why, because Heucheras are capable of providing year-round colour and low-level interest. (Meaning a spectacle close to the ground rather than only mildly exciting.)
You might imagine they lack the pizzazz possessed by the range of floozies: flowering, blooming beauties that abound from now until mid-summer, but this wouldn’t be comparing like with like. The Kniphofias in the picture below are certainly astonishing, but they only look like this for a few weeks of the year, whereas Heucheras keep on giving.
The bright and the beautiful
Kniphofias (red hot pokers), Delphiniums, Cannas, Rudbeckia (coneflowers) and Helianthus (sunflowers), are good examples of 'wow' plants that delight us with their flowers. There’s no comparison between these and Heuchera, and nor should there be. Every plant has its own individual arena in which is performs, and Heuchera likes to hug the stage floor, allowing others to take the higher level glory.
A couple of decades back, garden folk chose Heuchera in order to enjoy the wispy flowers which are held on think stalks high about the foliage. They are known casually as coral bells for this reason. But plant breeders soon realised there was more to this little beauty than mere flowers and thus, some attention to foliage variation was given some energy.
It proved to be one of the greatest success stories in recent times, as Heuchera foliage is now available in an astonishing range of colours. There are now well over 80 different varieties, with foliage colours ranging from acidic yellows and limes through to dark purple that almost looks black. If we’re to be contemporary in our colour descriptions, let’s describe the individuals as ‘smashed cucumber’, ‘crushed raspberry’, ‘shimmering silver’, ‘blood orange’, ‘chocolate truffle’ and maybe ‘glazed blueberry’. You get the picture.
Types of foliage
The foliage, which is largely evergreen, or ‘semi-evergreen’, can be ruffled, smooth or wavy, with the undersides somethings sporting an interesting contrast in colour. The foliar patterns are striking, with lots of contrasting ribs and veins and even the flowering season has been extended – sometimes up to six months of the year.
The beauty of this humble little plant extends even further, as Heuchera are able to grow in a wide range of positions and almost all soil types except waterlogged. There are loads of Heuchera that are happy in shade, many like semi-shade and a few can cope with full sun too. Dry shade under trees is a particular speciality, provided they are watered for the first six months until they are fully established.
Humble Heucheras are handsome and they manage to thrive in spaces where the majority of plants fail.
Are there any downsides?
It’s not only garden-lovers that like Heuchera, but the evil little weevil too. Vine weevil find that their roots are rather tasty. This is a pest that seems to be occurring more and more often in gardens across the UK. Biological control of vine weevils seems the best way to go and there are plenty of preparations on the market that will solve the problem.
The other thing to bear in mind is that fact that, although a mound of Heuchera will grow larger, they don’t reproduce and spread themselves around, as such. After up to four years they can start to look a little sorry for themselves. Many people renew their plants every so often for this reason. It is quite easy to divide Heuchera, however, and this makes a lot of sense. Just pull off some of the older, horizontal stems, near to the main stem, and have a go at rooting them.
These plants will also die if their feet are in waterlogged soil for any length of time. Aim to plant them in free-draining soil and be prepared to water them during their first season.
What about Heucherellas?
These relatives are a cross between Heuchera and Tiarella, which increases the range of colours and leaf shapes even further. What’s more, some Heucherellas have a trailing habit. They can therefore be used in hanging basket displays (all year round) and also be placed to trail over walls.
Our pick of the bunch
With so many Heuchera and Heucherellas from which to choose, it’s difficult to select favourites. However, H. ‘Electric Lime’ has to be somewhere near the top of the list. Plant it in groups and perhaps team it with a plum or purple-leafed variety. The old favourite and highly reliable H. ‘Palace Purple’ makes a particularly good partner. There are varieties such as Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ which has a gorgeously rich caramel tone.
Our vote for the more unusual form goes to cascading Heucherella ‘Yellowstone Falls’; H. ‘Redstone Falls’ and H. ‘Sunrise Falls’. All these plants can create a pretty amazing, tumbling and vivacious sight in various tones of reds, yellows and oranges.
Never before has the ground beneath our feet been blessed with such diverse and glorious opportunities!
Heuchera available from Perfectplants.co.uk