by Susan Harris
I'm totally besotted by the Heucheras displayed in all their glory at the Davidsonville store - 15 or so varieties of them, according to perennial buyer Laura Riddle. It seems that since 1991 when they were chosen Perennial Plant of the Year, the breeders have been hard at work because now we're seeing an awesome array of leaf colors, like the four above. Add to their beauty the fact that they're North American natives and you have the makings of a "must-have" plant.
What they look like
There are about 300 different types of Heucheras, also called “Coral Bells”, but they're all pretty much the same size - to about 18 inches tall (not counting their flower spikes) and wide. They do have delicate bell-shaped flowers that rise from the leaves on and off from early June through August, but the foliage is the main show and it lasts a nice long season here in Maryland. The leaves come in a variety of cool shapes and seemingly every shade in the rainbow - chartreuse, peach, black, red, brown, silver, and so on.
How They Grow
Here in the Mid-Atlantic most Heucheras prefers part shade, especially afternoon shade - though thankfully, newer varieties like 'Southern Comfort' tolerate even that grueling situation for a "shade" plant. They do best in fertile, well-drained soil, so if you have clay soil it should be amended with organic matter. They're generally free of pests and diseases, but can come down with a case of powdery mildew if they're not getting good air circulation.
Heucheras also prefer moist soil, so they need to be watered during periods of hot, dry weather.
Being shallow-rooted, they sometimes heave up in the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing, so apply mulch around them in the fall (not on TOP of them, though).
Designing with Heucheras
Heucheras have been swooned over by many a garden writer over the years and the typical advice for planting them is simple - in masses. Or at least resist buying one of everything and instead, get 3 to 5 (or more) of each, arranged in a naturalistic pattern. That means not lined up like soldiers but grouped together in some type of triangle, and preferably not an equal-sided one. (And now you know everything this writer knows about designing with perennials!)