New plants

Heucheras for flowers and foliage

Heuchera ‘Berry Timeless’

Flowers of Heuchera ‘Berry Timeless’ with Pansy ‘Cool Wave Raspberry Swirl’

Anyone who has ever bought a heuchera plant, and a lot of people who haven’t, will be aware of the huge number of different varieties there are now. Over the past decade or so there has been such prolific breeding of this humble plant that there’s now a mind boggling array of leaf colours and patterns to choose from. So of course the foliage is the main draw with many of the modern heucheras and their flowers generally get far less attention.

One of the problems where the flowers are concerned is that varieties with the boldest and brightest coloured leaves tend to have quite small pink or white flowers that aren’t really that attention-grabbing, unless you’re a bee because they really love them. These plants also tend to flower in late spring and early summer then stop, or only have a few flower spikes for the rest of the season, and the small blooms sometimes sit on tall, rather ungainly stems. Meanwhile, the plants which have bigger, more vibrant flowers with a much longer flowering season that can last from early to late summer, frequently have plainer green leaves – although they might have a silvery sheen and intricately patterned dark veins as ‘Berry Timeless’ does. So to some extent you have to decide whether you want to go for leaf colour or flower colour when you’re choosing a heuchera but there are varieties where you get a bit of both. Recently I came across a couple of new varieties which looked like they would fit that bill, so I grew them to see what they were like.

The marbled green leaves of Heuchera ‘Berry Timeless’, in May just after planting

I bought ‘Berry Timeless’ at the end of 2020 and planted it in a tall pot with what turned into a huge cloud of pansy ‘Cool Wave Raspberry Swirl’ (more of which in another post). I wanted it to combine with the pansy to cover the top of the pot under a clematis that I also put in. The pot sat on the sunny side of my garden in a sheltered spot where it can get very hot. This wouldn’t suit all heucheras, but this variety has some Heuchera villosa in its parentage which makes it well suited to heat, along with some Heuchera sanguinea, from which it gets the more showy flowers. I put controlled release fertiliser pellets in the compost when I planted up the pot and it was watered regularly, especially when the temperature rose (which to be fair wasn’t often last summer) but otherwise I left it to its own devices. The leaves got a bit lost at times under the vigorous pansy and it might have grown into a bigger clump if I’d put it in a pot on its own or grown it in the ground, but it looked happy enough. It flowered non stop from June until October.

I’ve seen it described as evergreen, which many heucheras are, at least to some extent, but I have to say there are no leaves on mine as I write this in January so it doesn’t seem to be evergreen here. I am hoping it will come back well in the spring and grow into a larger plant next year, with even more flowers.

Heuchera ‘Rex Purple’

Heuchera ‘Rex Purple’, which I bought at the same time as ‘Berry Timeless’, has fabulous leaves. Their shape, lobed with curled edges, gives glimpses of the rich purple undersides and the purple top is garnished with a pewter sheen and dark green veins. The flowers sit on delicate purple stems. They are quite dainty but very pretty and the spikes are short so the flowers sit close to the top of the clump of leaves. I remember planting it into a large trough after something else in there had died and I had nothing else to hand. It wasn’t what I’d had in mind, but it ended up working really well because the combination of pewter and purple in the leaves went so well with the grey of the trough I used. It’s a big sturdy plant, too, and as you can see from the pictures I took recently (in January) this one is definitely evergreen.

Part of the appeal of heucheras is that they’re easy to grow, but there are a few things to know about them. The first thing is the importance of checking what conditions suit your particular plant best because, as I’ve touched on above, some varieties really need to be planted in shade and will scorch and struggle in the sun while others are quite happy and might even have better leaf colour in a sunny spot than in shade.

Heucheras generally prefer soil that holds some moisture although they cope with dry soil once they’re properly settled in. They really don’t like very heavy soil that stays wet though. If they are evergreen you can snip off any manky looking older leaves in spring as the new ones start to grow. The only other thing to point out is that over a few years heucheras tend to develop big woody stems and start to look straggly. Don’t worry, though, you can rescue these older plants in late spring by taking off sections of stem with a little bit of root attached (these are usually the lower ones that are touching the soil) and potting them up or just replanting them. Even bits of stem without roots are worth potting up or planting as they root easily.

Oh, and if you grow them in pots watch out for vine weevil grubs because they really do love to eat heuchera roots!

Other varieties to grow for flowers

Heuchera ‘Paris’ has masses of bright red flowers and green leaves. Heuchera ‘Blondie’ is one of a series of very small plants that work well in containers. It’s got leaves that are hard to describe! They’re a sort of pale orange-red, perhaps toffee coloured is the best way to put it, and short red spikes of large, dark cream flowers. Heuchera ‘Thomas’ is a much bigger plant that has leaves with dark centres, rather like the leaves of tiarella, and masses of tall flower spikes with lime-yellow flowers. In my garden I’ve also got Heuchera ‘Madison Bride’ which is another compact little plant with plain green leaves and lovely creamy white flowers.

If you want to buy some heucheras, both the specialist nurseries, Heucharholics and Plantagogo are the best places to start. Prices are surprisingly reasonable and the quality always excellent.

Flowers of Heuchera ‘Madison Bride’

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