Fingers Burnt By Plants (Or Is It The Plants Getting Burnt?)

Tiarella flowers
Tiarella flowers setting the trends at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show

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.

Contrasting brown, green and purple leaves covered in raindrops
Heucherella ‘Redstone Falls’ with contrasting varieties

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.

Silver leaves with darker veining
Heuchera ‘Sugar Frosting’

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.

Heucheras with hostas ferns, polygonatum and liriope

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.]

Pinkish red heuchera with painted fern
Heucherella ‘Redstone Falls’ and Athyrium niponicum ‘Burgundy Lace’

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.

Bright purple leaves with darker veins
Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’ has striking, metallic purple foliage

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.

Tiarella with pronounced dark markings on the green leaves
Tiarella ‘Emerald Ellie’ has starry flowers (compared to the red, bell shaped heuchera ones behind)

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.

Bronzy heuchera leaves with pinker reverses
Heucherella ‘Red Rover’ – a new variety

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.

42 Replies to “Fingers Burnt By Plants (Or Is It The Plants Getting Burnt?)”

    1. Luckily there are lots of ways to enjoy plants – if we could only enjoy the ones we grew the world would be a less happy place!

        1. Hooray! We were supposed to have torrential rain tomorrow but the weather people seem to be suggesting it will be fine now.

  1. Such lovely photos! I love all your different kinds of heucheras. I find that over time, and maybe because they are coming out with such beautiful varieties every year, that I am falling for them too. They seem to do pretty well here in Ohio, surviving our harsh winters and hot summers.

  2. Coral Bells is one of my favorite shade perennials, but I absolutely cannot keep it alive in Mississippi. It flourished “up home” in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, and I miss the dainty little flowers dancing in the breeze. Thank you for sharing. ❤️

    1. I feel a bit reassured after hearing that. The plants I miss most when I’m over with you are hardy geraniums. They do so well here that you could hardly find a cottage garden without one.

  3. I love heucheras and their relatives too — like you, I have had a number of hits and misses here in Georgia! Interestingly, the ones that have done the best for me are in containers in near-full sun facing south! They droop when not watered enough but they recover quickly. I think the issue in the Southeast may be the combination of moisture and drainage; if the drainage isn’t excellent, they will vanish regardless of sun or shade, but they require lots of water to thrive. The ones I have in containers are Berry Smoothie, Stainless Steel, and Obsidian. I planted a number of heucherellas in a bright shade area that gets regular water from our sprinkler system, and almost all of them disappeared, so I think the drainage wasn’t good enough for them even in amended clay soil. Sigh. I do love them!

  4. I can imagine that MS is a tough climate for many plants…those summers can be brutal!
    Love the varieties you’ve shown here, esp. the silvery-white one!

    1. They can grow beautiful plants we can’t – it’s a case of altering your sensibilities. I still give a double take when I see a plant we can only keep alive in a hot house growing happily in a garden.

      There’s another one I really like but haven’t got a decent picture of – H. ‘Champagne’.

  5. Heucheras are a natural here. They are not my favorite though. Perhaps it is because they were a fad a while back.
    I have somehow been fortunate to get involved with the most sustainable of plants. I take pieces of the with me wherever I go, and they do well there. A problem I have with a friend who took many of the plants that were most important to me because he ‘wanted’ them and ‘promised’ to take care of them is that he let almost all of them dry up, and killed many with the mower or weed whacker. These were copies of plants that I grew up with, and were supposed to stay alive long enough for me to get more copies of them for my own garden.

  6. Those heucheras certainly are most attractive and I’ve been quietly admiring them on other people’s posts for some time. I don’t think they’re for me though. They’d make a beautiful mosaic ground cover in the right spot, it’s just that with too much sun and not enough rain, I’d be creating yet another high care situation. Pity!

    1. My instinct used to be to think any plant might just grow anywhere given the right amendments and care, but have to accept that it makes sense to choose plants that have a good chance of survival on their own where we live, at least for a while, when everyday life gets in the way of looking after them.

  7. ‘Red Rover’ is stunning! I haven’t had much luck previously, even in Devon. But that one would definitely tempt me to have another try.

    1. My fingers are crossed for you! I was lucky that the stall holder had sprayed the plants shortly before I got there to catch those raindrops.

  8. This is so timely for me and my first-year garden. One of the plants here is heuchera, and I’ve been debating about its future. What you have pictured here makes me think mine just isn’t in the right place. Thanks!

    1. They are often underrated, but well worth a second chance. You might be able to divide it when you move it and get a few more.

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