Love isn’t always requited between humans & plants, but we shouldn’t allow the lamentable failure of a relationship to thrive to put us off one type of plant entirely. Easy to say, but harder to venture a tender heart the second time around.
I was first acquainted with a brownish heuchera that lived in a hanging basket in an out of the way place, seemingly never watered. Most of the soil had fallen out and only a spindly root system prevented the heuchera from going the same way. The plant never looked great, but you had to respect its toughness. I can’t claim to have fallen in love; at best we were on nodding terms.
Inspired by that one, I went on to grow several heucheras, tiarellas and their hybrid, heucherellas, using their mounds of patterned leaves as ground cover. They really are plants you can paint land with, in England, at least. Unsurprisingly, I found myself getting fond of them.
Years later in a sweeping generalisation, thinking back to the neglected one that clung on to life regardless, I concluded they could tolerate being dry, so would surely be a good bet for a Mississippi garden.
It was a(nother) lesson in the way plants translate to different climates when the ones I pestered to add to my sweetheart’s shade garden in Mississippi melted away. They’d stolen my heart while they lasted. I can’t tell you how many times I mooned over them while I was over there, taking advantage of a handy stone wall to sit beside them. The anoles seemed to be watching them too.
I’d been away and when I noticed their complete disappearance (my sweetheart hadn’t wanted to break the news) it wasn’t clear to me whether it was the summer wot dun it, or the winter. Or the fall. Spring was OK though – they sure looked lovely for a season!*
I would be willing – eager even – to give them another try but it’s my sweetheart’s garden and I fear he might be once bitten, twice shy. I should perhaps admit the heucheras followed on from my earlier experiments there with a large pelargonium (died); hardy geranium (died); lavender (died)… luckily, the hellebores are doing fine. [Anyone who knows my sweetheart has noticed that here, I gloss over my glossing over of the articulate and ominous warnings that prefigured my rasher experiments.]
Perhaps the cultivars I’d picked out were just poor choices – after all, some of them have survived long enough to have folk names over there (coral bells and foamflower). Perhaps they would have been just fine, given more care. It’s not that they’re needy, but they didn’t make it onto the special list of plants that ‘do fine with no care at all’: things you can plant and walk away from.
Where they do thrive, they are increasingly beautiful, breeders regularly introducing new forms. Heucherellas theoretically offer the best of both: heucheras pass on interesting leaf colours as their part of the deal and tiarellas contribute disease resistance and interesting leaf shapes or markings. Bell shaped flowers indicate heuchera influence; spikes of star shaped flowers, tiarella DNA.
For now, I’m loving heucheras, tiarellas and heucherellas from afar. Given a decent sized English garden to populate, I’ll take pretty much as many as you can give me (just not sure about the pure lime green ones, but given the right plant combinations, I dare say I’d succumb to their charms too). In Mississippi, more thought would be needed. Or a plant sitter.
If you’re looking to take a break from plain green leaves, check out what’s available in your area and give the ones you like best a try. I can assure you they’re worth taking a chance on, even for a flower lover like me. If you can get them well established, it could be the start of a beautiful relationship.
All the pictures above were taken at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show 2018, except for the fourth one, which shows the shade garden in Mississippi. This blog post from national collection holders, Plantagogo, explains whether they should be planted in sun or shade. Plantagogo supply many of the plants illustrated here and browsing around on their site will give you more tips and inspiration.
*My sweetheart’s assessment is that an unusually wet spring followed by a dry summer with hot, humid nights fettled the Mississippi ones off. While the plants could take any of those conditions individually, they couldn’t cope with them all back to back, so soon after planting.