I’m in love with Heuchera. This is not a love that made me swoon and swept me right off my feet but one that has grown from a long friendship. A friendship that came about by sheer happenstance. Isn’t that the way so many good relationships develop? When we aren’t trying too hard or analyzing too much, when we’re more relaxed and open to receive what or who comes our way. And so it was with me and Heuchera.
Several years ago, I was trying to add visual oomph to an oft overlooked, shady part of the garden. Amongst the assorted greens, I added the almost acid yellow of Hackonechloa grass and needed a dark color to balance this palette. Shade tolerant, purple or burgundy hued, low to medium height and easy to grow were the characteristics that were required. At the nursery, as I trolled the aisles of happy perennials screaming “pick me!” and trying hard to suppress my impulse to adopt them all, I came across a plant that appeared to fit the bill. That was how I first met Heuchera. Rosettes of obsidian, palmately lobed leaves and quite unpretentiously handsome overall, it was ideal. An appropriate addition to the garden.
Once I realized how dependable this newcomer was, I looked for more to fill in various shady corners of the garden. To my sheer delight, I discovered that Heuchera come in a variety of shades ranging from dark to chartreuse to variegated. A multitude of hybrids between various Heuchera species has been developed. One could make a whole bed of the many Heuchera to create a stunning botanical rendition of a Flemish tapestry. Commonly called coral bells, because of the coral colored flowers on long racemes that rise well above the main body of the plant, Heuchera are not generally selected for their blooms. Its the foliage that make them so interesting and vital. FYI – the flowers also come in white, green and red colors.
That they are hardy, virtually pest free, shade loving and easy to propagate by division only increases their value in the garden. I’ve had Heuchera in pots that stay outside and unprotected all winter and to date, they have survived remarkably well. That is impressive don’t you agree?
But wait, it gets better. Heuchera are true North American originals! They grow in different habitats so there’s something for a garden anywhere in the world. The leaves are edible though I have not been inclined to nibble at them. Natives of the American northwest used to make a digestive tonic from the roots. Again, I’m not recommending that anybody try out a recipe. Though personally, I’m happy to know that they are standbys in case of famine or a sudden inclination towards gluttony.
With a truly extensive array of blossom sizes, shapes, colors, foliage types and geographic range, they are quite valuable in any garden. Besides, who can resist cultivar names like ‘Burgundy frost”, “Raspberry regal”, “Smokey rose”, “Purple petticoats” or, “Chocolate veil”?
I do believe this love affair is for keeps.
(c) 2013 Shobha Vanchiswar