This time of the year can be a bit dreary with all the garden chores either finished or hidden by snow. Tidy gardeners will have every perennial shaved back to within a centimetre of the soil line, while others ignore the leaf piles and clean up in the spring. My early November and pre-holiday moments are typically spent thinking wishfully about next year’s garden: what glorious scented specimen will greet visitors at the front door, or what unusual foliage might brighten up a patch of shade.
One plant that is always a delight is Heuchera or coral bells. These hardy perennials are prized for their clumps of beautiful foliage with wavy margins or serrated cut lobes. They produce delicate bell-shaped flowers on graceful stems that grow from 12 to 18 inches tall. Heuchera can take sun or partial shade but prefer light, loamy soil that is moist, but well-drained.
Here are some proven varieites you may want to try them in your garden:
Heuchera ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has foliage that literally glows. Part of the “Rainbow” series, this selection pushes up grand white flowers in early spring. This heuchera performs well in containers and may be somewhat evergreen if there is good snow cover.
Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ is a good match for its black gemstone namesake. Its broadly rounded foliage is deep black and shiny, making it a great foil for lighter coloured foliage plants. Try pairing it with chartreuse Lysimachia nummularia Aurea or even Sagina (Irish moss).
Heuchera ‘Peache Flambe’ foliage glows with a pastel, peach hue, turning to a dark plum in the cool weather. This selection has larger leaves than ‘Amber Waves’, or ‘Marmalade’. White flowers are borne on 16-inch stalks in the early spring. This plant also performs well in containers.
Heuchera ‘Hollywood’ is a favourite among the plant breeders. Not to be missed, it bears strong, recurrent dense coral blossoms with veined, slightly metallic ruffled leaves. This perennial will flower all spring and summer.
X Heucherella (HEW-ker-ella) are inter-genetic hybrids between Heuchera and Tiarella. They flower, most of them repeatedly, but they are sterile. The upper case “X” is not pronounced but is written to indicate that this plant has different generic parents.
X Heucherella ‘Stoplight’ is perhaps the most interesting plant in this category, because of the sharp contrast between its blood red centre and oversized, chartreuse leaf. The flowers are white and produced in spring, but I wouldn’t care if they never flowered the foliage is so striking! ‘Stoplight’ does well in containers.
X Heucherella ‘Sunspot’ is as bright and energetic as a July day. It’s similar to Stoplight in hue, with electric yellow leaves and red painted centres. The flowers are pink and appear in spring; the intense foliage mutes to straw yellow by late summer. A beautiful plant for any garden.
I have found so many new and wonderful selections of Heuchera and X Heucherella, that I am tempted to become a self-professed purveyor of these perennials! You will not be disappointed if you try some of my suggested varieties, which are showy en masse or as singles in raised beds and rock gardens. Should you not be able to source them, ask the garden center you deal with to order them in for you.
by Ken Beattie
Ken Beattie, Canada’s favourite garden broadcaster, writes exclusively for Manitoba Gardener and its sister gardening magazines.