Fall Back

The words ‘fall back’ can mean to recede, withdraw or retreat – like what happens to our gardens at this time of year. Fall back is also a catchy phrase we use to remind ourselves which way to adjust our clocks when moving from daylight time to standard time. Either way my friends, gardening season is over – the autumnal equinox officially ushered in fall on September 22nd, and in less than 2 weeks it will be time to turn our clocks back. For me, this ‘turning of the clocks’, more than any other temporal landmark, signals winter’s imminent approach; when we’ll trade our garden gloves for ski gloves, and hot toddies by the fire will replace chilled wine on the patio.

We could choose to lament the passing of another garden season, or we could celebrate what’s still beautiful in our gardens, while it’s there. If you find there’s little or no beauty left in your garden, you might want to consider adding some plant material specifically for fall colour – late or long blooming perennials, foliage that changes or intensifies its colour, plants with ornamental fruit and of course some evergreen material to set it all off.

Let’s take a walk along our city streets to see what autumn splendour we can find.

Trees

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mountain ash turns intense shades of tawny red.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Among the most dramatic fall colour displays is the mountain ash, with foliage hues of orange, red and mahogany, and bright red or orange berries.

The American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) and showy mountain ash (Sorbus decora) have big clusters of true red berries, which are very showy.

The European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) has smaller berries that are more orange and is one of the last trees to turn colour in the fall.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sorbus americana beginning to change colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A make-shift swing hangs from the branches of colourful mountain ash. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A make-shift swing hangs from the branches of a colourful mountain ash. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Many species of Malus (apple, crabapple) also have excellent fall colour, for example;  the small weeping ‘Rosy Glo’ turns brilliant orange, and the stately ‘Pink Spires’ turns flaming red. Others display more golden tones which contrast beautifully with the red fruit.

Malus 'Rosy Glo'

Malus ‘Rosy Glo’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Malus sp.

Malus sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Malus sp 2

Malus sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Betula (birch) too, present shades of gold, and Acer, the maple genus, includes some of the best fall colour specimens – unfortunately the gorgeous sugar maple, that king of autumn foliage, isn’t hardy here in the prairies. However, Acer ginnala (Amur maple) does well here and has fabulous fall colour. Its growth habit can be somewhat untidy when grown as a tree – it is therefore in my opinion, best grown as a large shrub.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Acer ginnala. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aesculus

Aesculus glabra – several young specimens in various stages of autumn colour change. Photo: Pat Gaviller

There are of course many other trees with colourful fall foliage: Aesculus glabra (Ohio Buckeye) produces stunning orange fall colour, as does Amelanchier grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Autumn Brilliance serviceberry).

Larix (larch) and Populus (aspen/poplar) turn golden-yellow, and the foliage of Crataegus  (hawthorn) changes to yellow, amber, orange or burgundy in the fall – the display is short-lived, but they also set pretty fruit.

The berries of Crataegus sp. are quite decorative. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The berries of Crataegus sp. are quite decorative. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Shrubs

There are countless shrubs that offer fine fall colour. Currently the most obvious is the ubiquitous Cotoneaster – I must admit I have a love-hate relationship with this shrub. What I don’t like is that I’ve inherited it – a hedge and 2 shrubs, positioned such that they require weekly pruning. Cotoneaster is prone to pests and disease (aphids, oyster shell scale, fire blight, twig blight), and the constant pruning makes it that much more susceptible. If mine had been situated differently, with more elbow room to reach their natural spread, I’d happily accept their presence in my yard. So why don’t I just remove them you ask? Well, the two shrubs are on city property and the hedge is a monster – I can’t even image the herculean effort required to remove it, or the impact it would have on the gardens. So I’m kinda stuck with all of them.

But I digress. Cotoneaster isn’t all bad – I love that it leafs out early in the spring, with dark green glossy leaves. I love that it attracts many species of birds, and I love the vibrant autumn foliage.

Brilliant hues of Cotoneaster lucidus foliage are a spectacular contrast to the silvery leaves of Elaeagnus angustifolia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Brilliant hues of Cotoneaster lucidus foliage are a spectacular contrast to the silvery leaves of Elaeagnus angustifolia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

orange patio umbrella

Bright orange Cotoneaster foliage echoes the colour of the patio umbrella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Viburnum trilobum berries

Viburnum trilobum. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Most species of Viburnum (nannyberry, highbush cranberry, arrowwood) also provide rich autumn colour (attractive fruit too), and the normally unassuming Euonymus alatus (burning bush) becomes show-stopping fuchsia-red in the fall. Many Cornus (dogwood) species turn various shades of red, contrasting nicely with the white berries and Spiraea (spirea) takes on fiery orange-red tones. There are even a couple of lilacs that display colourful fall foliage – Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’ being the most notable.

Cornus sericea

Cornus sericea. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Cornus alba 'Aurea' fall foliage.

Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spiraea japonica

Spiraea japonica ‘Macrophylla’ exhibits beautiful shades of orange, red and purple in its fall foliage.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

The orange-red autumn foliage of Spiraea japonica 'Gold Flame' is set off beautifully by the steely blue of the spruce. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The orange-red autumn foliage of Spiraea japonica ‘Gold Flame’ is set off beautifully by the steely blue of the spruce. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Some shrubs have no appreciable fall foliage colour to offer, instead providing a punch of colour with their fruit. Hippophae rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) has gorgeous orange fruit, Sambucus racemosa (red elder) produces beautiful red berries, Symphoricarpos doorenbosii  ‘Amethyst’ (coralberry) has pretty pink berries and many roses produce very showy hips.

Hippophae rhamnoides

Hippophae rhamnoides berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus racemosa berries.

Sambucus racemosa berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Scabrosa’ produces huge cherry-red hips. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Scabrosa’ produces huge cherry-red hips. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Perennials

Although herbaceous perennials by definition, die back at the end of the season, some have foliage that changes or intensifies its colour first. For example Paeonia (peony) foliage often takes on reddish tones, as does Bergenia (elephant ears), particularly the cultivar ‘Bressingham Ruby’. Arctostaphylos uva ursi (kinnickinnick), an evergreen groundcover, turns mahogany-coloured in the fall, and Ajuga reptans (bugleweed), which is semi-evergreen, intensifies its already dark hue, taking on a rich opalescence with fall’s cooler nights. Many Heuchera cultivars are also still colourful, again their foliage assuming darker, richer tones.

Peony fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Peony fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heuchera 'Pinot Gris' foliage displays more prominent veining in the fall. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’ still looking beautiful, its autumn foliage displaying very prominent veining. Photo: Sue Gaviller

There are even a few perennials still blooming – some are season-long bloomers; for example in my own garden, Geranium cinereum ‘Ballerina’ (Ballerina cranesbill) has a few stray blooms, as do Campanula portenschlagiana (Dalmatian bellflower) and Dianthus ‘Neon Star’ (Neon Star pinks), both profiled in a post from last year, Top Twenty of Twenty Twelve. There are also late bloomers that offer fall colour – Aster, Anemone hupehensis (Japanese anemone), Hylotelephium telephium (tall stonecrop) and Chrysanthemum (mums) to name a few. Even my Eutrochium purpureum (formerly Eupatorium purpureum and better known as Joe Pye Weed) still has a hint of colour.

Aster novae-angliae  ‘Alma Potschke'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae  'Purple Dome'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hylotelephium telephium  'Autumn Joy'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Ornamental grasses look stunning at this time of year – tall Calamagrostis cultivars (reed grass), with their straw-coloured inflorescence, nicely complement other autumn hues, and blue grasses like Helictotrichon sempervirens (blue oat grass) and Festuca glauca (blue fescue) offer cool contrast.

Calamagrostis 'Avalanche' beautifully complements Cotoneaster (left) and Viburnum trilobum 'Bailey Compact' (middle. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Calamagrostis ‘Avalanche’ beautifully complements Cotoneaster (left) and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ (middle). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blades of Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' grass turn bright red in autumn. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blades of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ turn rich red in autumn. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Autumn can be a beautiful time in the garden – for most plants it’s their last hurrah before winter sets in. Be sure to include some of these colourful fall plants in your garden composition – it will take the sting out of summer’s end.

Happy fall y’all,
Sue

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Respect Your Elders

What do a licorice-flavored liqueur, a potent anti-viral and a natural fabric dye have in common? Care to venture a guess?  No?  Well the answer is they’re all derived from Elderberries. The very versatile Sambucus, a genus of large, flowering shrubs, has many other uses as well, not the least of which is its ornamental value.

black elderberries

Sambucus nigra berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The berries are also used in jams, jellies and wine, the flowers are used in cosmetics, the hollow stems can be fashioned into musical instruments, and the dried leaves can be used as an insecticide. All parts of the plant, including the stems, bark, leaves and roots, are poisonous. The berries too, are reputed to have some toxicity to humans – if eaten raw. When cooked however, the toxins break down making the berries quite edible.

The real value to the horticulturist and the garden designer though, is ornamental. In our zone 3 climate, there are three species of Sambucus commonly used in the landscape: S. nigra (European black elder), S. canadensis (American elder), and S. racemosa (red elder). All have mid-green, compound leaves of medium to medium-coarse texture. Delicate white flower clusters appear in early summer, developing into very showy fruit later in the season – particularly the red-berried S. racemosa. In addition, the mature bark is quite interesting; reddish-brown with distinct vertical stripes.

red elderberries

Sambucus racemosa berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mature Sambucus bark. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Of greater note is the number of cultivars that have been developed from these three species – bred for colourful foliage, unique leaf texture, and flower colour.

More Colourful Foliage

In addition to the basic green of the species, gold, purple and variegated foliage colours are also available. One of the earlier gold-leaf introductions was Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’, a very intense yellow-green selection – hardy and robust. Numerous other golden cultivars are also available: S. racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’,  S. racemosa ‘Plumosa Aurea’ and S. racemosa ‘Goldenlocks’ to name a few.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

There are also variegated cultivars, though I see fewer of them at local nurseries – in my own experience they are less reliably hardy, which may explain their inconsistent availability. Sambucus nigra ‘Madonna’ is usually available, and relatively hardy in our prairie climate – winter dieback can be a problem but re-growth is quite significant during the season. This cultivar has beautiful butter-yellow/green variegation on new leaves, turning to creamy white and green as they mature.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus nigra ‘Madonna’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The original Purple variety, S. nigra ‘Purpurea’, had foliage that emerged purple but faded to bronze-green as the season progressed. This was followed by the almost identical ‘Guincho Purple’, which didn’t hold its colour very well either. The real breakthrough in purple foliage occurred with the introduction of ‘Black Beauty’, bred to maintain its dark, rich purple colour throughout the season. Indeed it does, and it’s also a very vigorous grower – especially widthwise, so give it some elbow room (unless you don’t mind pruning constantly). Most intense colour is achieved in full sun, with somewhat less saturated colour in shadier locations.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

More Textural Interest

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus nigra ‘Laciniata’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Many Sambucus cultivars also exhibit fine lacy-looking texture. While all elders have compound leaves (which in itself provides textural interest), the cut-leaf selections have finely dissected individual leaflets, providing very unique textural appeal.

Sambucus nigra ‘Laciniata’, a green variety, was the earliest of these lace-leaf elders, but breeders went on to select for this characteristic in coloured cultivars as well.

The aforementioned gold cultivars, S. racemosa ‘Sutherand Gold’, S. racemosa ‘Plumosa Aurea’ and S. racemosa ‘Goldenlocks’ are fine examples of both bright colour and lacy texture. Another is the recent dark leaf introduction, S. nigra ‘Black Lace’.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus racemosa ‘Plumosa Aurea’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Black Lace Elder

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

More Flower Power

As if beautiful foliage colour and texture weren’t enough, a few of these lovelies also have stunning flower colour. While most elders produce the characteristic creamy white panicles, S. nigra ‘Black Lace’ and S. nigra ‘Black Beauty’ have exquisite pink flowers – a striking contrast to the dark foliage.

Sambucus nigra 'Black Beauty'. Photo: Alison Pike, Alison's Garden

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’. Photo: Alison Pike, Alison’s Garden

Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace'. Photo: Amanda Slater

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’. Photo: Amanda Slater

 More than Just a Pretty Face

The horticultural importance of Sambucus species goes beyond their design value. Their roots are deep and very dense so they’re useful for stabilizing slopes and controlling erosion – even along stream banks.  To top it all off they provide food and cover for many birds – hummingbirds especially enjoy the nectar from the flowers.

So my gardening friends, show a little respect – your elders have much to offer.

Respectfully yours,
Sue
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012.Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 

Barking up the Wrong Tree

They say dog is man’s best friend – well how about dogwood is gardener’s best friend? I don’t mean the graceful dogwood trees, Cornus kousa or Cornus florida  – I wish I could say I was referring to them, but sadly no, we can’t grow these lovely trees in our zone 3, chinook-challenged climate. We can however, grow some splendid cultivars of our native Cornus sericea (red osier dogwood), and the closely related Cornus alba (Tatarian dogwood). I recall a recent quip from an out-of-province industry professional in reference to these…….he snorted, “That’s a dogwood? Where I come from dogwoods are trees.” Yeah, yeah, I know – we’re horticulturally deprived here. But no need to feel sorry for ourselves – the dogwood shrubs I speak of, though not as ornamental in flower, have special characteristics that set them apart from their arboreal counterparts. Not only are they extremely hardy in our fierce climate, they have a beauty all their own and offer it up year round.

Let’s take a walk through the seasons and see what these dogwoods have to offer

Winter Bark

Both species have colourful bark which is very showy in winter. C. sericea has dark red bark, C. alba has brighter red bark, and each have numerous cultivars presenting additional bark colours of green, yellow, coral and purple-black.  Indeed it is this trait that makes dogwood so desirable in Northern climes – our winters are long and it provides a bright spot in a dreary landscape. The branches are often used in seasonal container arrangements as well, since they hold their colour well when cut.

Cornus sericea (red osier dogwood) lines the banks of the Bow River, its massive root system preventing erosion, and its colourful stems brightening the winter landscape. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The pliable branches are also useful for various crafts – basketweaving for example. Dream catchers too, were traditionally made of red osier dogwood, which some considered to be sacred.

Colourful bark makes dogwood branches useful in other landscape applications – the detail in the viewing window on the left is made from dogwood which I harvested from one of my very mature Cornus sericea ‘Flavirimea’. I then had my friend and colleague, Greg Booth of Sawback Developments, fashion this Japanese-style gate for a client. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Since it is the younger branches that are the most colourful, keeping old branches pruned out will ensure good bark colour. Very old, untidy specimens can be ‘rejuvenated’ by pruning them to the ground. Your efforts will be rewarded with lush new growth the following year.

Spring Flowers and Summer Berries

All of the C. Sericea and C. Alba cultivars have delicate white flowers in spring. Some years they flower abundantly, other years more sporadically, and while the blooms can’t compete visually with those of Malus or Syringa, they are nonetheless suitably pretty. In late summer these pretty white flowers become pretty white berries, which are especially attractive against the changing foliage colour.

Dogwood berries provide food for many species of birds – too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that if you want to attract birds to your yard, include a native dogwood or two in your plan.

Dogwood flowers, though not particularly showy, still have ornamental value in the landscape. Left: Cornus sericea. Photo: Pat Gaviller. Right: Cornus alba ‘Aurea’. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Cornus sericea: small white flower clusters become cream-coloured berries – stunning against the red fall foliage. Photos: Pat Gaviller

Foliage Colour All Season Long

Cornus sericea and Cornus alba contribute both texture and colour to the garden. Texturally they are medium-coarse – these coarser textures are desirable for providing moments of emphasis and contrast in the landscape. As for colour, there is increasing variety in available foliage colours – bright gold, bronze-green, variegated green and gold, variegated green and white, and of course basic green. With all these colours to choose from, the lowly dogwood shrub can make a real splash in your garden.

Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ has intense bright golden foliage – a real standout. Here it contrasts beautifully with the dark green of Syringa vulgaris and the rich wine-coloured Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’. With colour like this who needs flowers? Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cornus alba ‘Strawberry Daiquiri’ (left) has very white leaf margins and strawberry coloured bark, while Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ has butter cream variegation and dark purple-red bark. Such yummy names aren’t they? Photos: Sue Gaviller

Cornus sericea ‘Silver & Gold’ has green and cream variegated leaves and bright yellow bark – an attractive addition to the landscape any time of year. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Dogwoods also have brilliant fall foliage colour – the red-barked cultivars turn varying shades of red, the yellow-barked cultivars turn golden and the variegated cultivars turn shades of peach, pink or orange.  These Cornus shrub species really do have something to offer in all four seasons – few plants have such versatility.

The bright red fall foliage of this small compact dogwood (which I suspect is Cornus sericea ‘Farrow’) looks stunning against the backdrop of a richly stained fence and the limestone boulder in the foreground. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ in late summer, just beginning to show its fall colours. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Size Matters

C. sericea and C. alba species are quite large – 2 to 3 meters height and spread. This is great if you have lots of room, but if not, there are many cultivars bred specifically for the smaller yard. Cornus sericea ‘Farrow’ (Arctic Fire dogwood) is a compact bushy cultivar with lush green leaves and intense red stems, reaching about 1 meter tall and wide. Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’ is a cute little dwarf variety growing only about ½ metre. For variegated cultivars, the very pretty Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ is a great choice for small yards with a height and spread of about 1 metre.

This client’s Northwest Calgary yard was one of the first designs in which I used Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’. I’ve been very happy with its performance – very little winterkill, bushy compact growth habit and beautiful warm variegated foliage has made it a great choice. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Dogwoods aren’t  picky about where you put them – I have 12 or 13 of them in my yard, numerous cultivars of both species, placed in every conceivable growing condition – shade, semi-shade, full sun, moist, dry, sheltered, exposed and several combinations thereof. I can’t say any particular specimen is doing markedly better than others – the one in full sun with supplemental water from the downspout has perhaps grown the fastest, but on the whole they’re all pretty happy.

So you see there’s a dogwood for everyone, for every site, and for every season. Indeed they are a gardener’s best friend.

Thank y’all for reading,
Sue
 
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Holy H. Batman!

That’s ‘H’ for Heuchera – you know that indispensable foliage plant that comes in every colour of the rainbow?

I believe a garden plant should carry its weight throughout the season, from early spring through late fall – in other words they must be more than just a pretty face, I mean flower.  Plants with attractive foliage are the key here and Heuchera rules this realm – what other plant has leaves that can bring the same intensity of colour as flowers, and in a huge range of hues?

So let’s take a closer look at this genus of fabulous foliage perennials.

Foliage Favourites

There are more than 50 species in this genus, all or most of which are North American natives, and a few of which figure prominently in Heuchera breeding programs: H. americana, H. villosa, H. micrantha, H. sanguinea, H. cylindrica, and H. pubescens.  Each of these species brings unique characteristics to the table. Hence, countless crosses and back crosses have resulted in enormous variety in terms of leaf colour (pink, purple, plum, peach, lime, orange), leaf size (some are huge) and leaf shape (scalloped, pointy, curled, ruffled). I’m not even going to try to walk you through all of this – the folks at Terra Nova Nurseries, responsible for much of the current hybridizing craze, can show you so much better than I. Do check out their website. Be prepared though: if you garden in Calgary, you may experience a little ‘inner whine’ when you view some of the stunning images of their beautiful plants – we can’t grow’em like that here………sigh.

Charles Oliver of The Primrose Path and France’s Thierry Delabroye have also made significant contributions to the vast selection of new Heuchera cultivars.

The frenzied hybridizing that has produced hundreds of new cultivars since 1990, began with the discovery of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ – originally determined to be a variant of H. micrantha, but later argued to be of H. villosa stock. It was awarded the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year in 1991 – since then of course, far superior dark-leaved cultivars have been developed, as well as many other unimaginable colours.

Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’. Photo: Marny Estep

Dark and rich foliage colours. Clockwise from top left: Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ (late summer colour), Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’, Heuchera ‘Plum Royale’, Heuchera ‘Bressingham Bronze’ and Heuchera ‘Prince’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Warm and Bright foliage colours. Clockwise from top left: Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’, Heuchera ‘Mahogany’, Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ (early summer colour), Heuchera ‘Tiramisu’ and Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Flowers Too

Heuchera ‘Bressingham Hybrid’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Flower characteristics have also been the focus of various breeding programs – in fact well before Heuchera was deemed a desirable foliage perennial, Alan Bloom of Blooms of Bressingham had been working to improve the original coral bells, with their racemes of tiny, coral-coloured bells (Heuchera sanguinea). He began selecting for larger, brighter coloured florets. ‘Bressingham Hybrid’ was one of his early successes followed by numerous others –  ‘Red Spangles’, ‘Rosemary Bloom’ and ‘Bridget Bloom’ to name a few.

Some Like it Hot

In the early years, Heuchera was marketed as a shade perennial – indeed many nurseries still display it in their Shade Perennials section. However, many cultivars actually present better colour in half, if not full sun.

How much sun or shade a particular cultivar can tolerate is partly determined by geography – our prairie summers are generally hot and fairly dry, but not nearly as hot and dry as Las Vegas. So a Heuchera planted in full sun in Calgary may do just fine, but could fry in the hot sun of the Mojave Desert.

In addition, the particular species of Heuchera will determine its heat and sun tolerance, as well as its cold hardiness. Species that are native to subtropical regions will be more tolerant of high heat and humidity, even thriving in such conditions. Heuchera villosa, a native of the subtropical southeastern United States, is one such species. Heuchera americana on the other hand, is native to more northern climes hence prefers cooler drier conditions.

Some Have it All

It used to be that you could purchase Heuchera with colourful foliage and nondescript flowers, or you could buy Heuchera with brightly coloured flowers and pretty, but nondescript, foliage. However, with complex hybridizing using numerous parent species, it’s now possible to have both – showy foliage and showy flowers. Terra Nova’s City Series boasts some great examples of this.  And of course the hybrids will retain the climactic preferences of their parentage, so if there is villosa, americana and pubescens species in their make-up, they will be drought tolerant, heat & humidity tolerant and cold hardy. Indeed some really do have it all!

Left: Heuchera ‘Havana’ from Terra Nova’s City Series has bright lime green foliage and large, plentiful, bright coral-pink florets. Photo: Sue Gaviller
Right: Heuchera ‘Cherries Jubilee’, also from Terra Nova Nurseries, has dark burgundy foliage and bright coral-red flowers. Photo: Pat Gaviller

…….And Then Some

Heuchera is parent to one of the few instances of intergeneric hybridization in horticulture – it has been crossed with Tiarella to produce the lovely Heucherella.  Because Tiarella is a true shade plant, adding this to the mix means better colour retention in shady locations. Case in point : Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’, a relatively new introduction which I used in some shade containers for a client – the pink-splashed purple leaves maintained good colour saturation all season.

Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’ with Heuchera ‘Havana’ make a lovely container arrangement in this client’s shady front entryway. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Design Value

The upshot of all this is that the hardy Heuchera has (or should) become an indispensible addition to gardens around the globe, and for good reason. If we look at it in light of our recent discussions on Unity, we see that this perennial, because of its colourful foliage, can provide colour repetition all season long, not just when in bloom. Even if we’re using one of the early hybrids grown just for its flowers, these Heuchera can still provide an extended period of colour repetition because they’re very long blooming – cultivars chosen for flowers alone are most effective when massed so the impact is more significant.

This mass of Heuchera flowers makes a lovely early summer statement. Photo: Pat Gaviller

As well, the decidedly coarse texture of this genus is useful for creating moments of emphasis or dominance – keep in mind though, that because the overall plant size isn’t very large, dominance is better achieved using a small group rather than a single specimen. The landscape-size selections, like Terra Nova’s Marmalade Series are the only cultivars large enough to be dominant on their own. Utilizing Heuchera in containers is another way they can contribute to dominance in the landscape, i.e. a focal point. Bear in mind too, especially with the brightly hued foliage selections, that you don’t want to go overboard with this perennial – too much bright colour or coarse texture can create competition for dominance which results in visual tension.

Heuchera can bring real pizzaz to container plantings – just imagine any one of these beautiful arrangements as a stunning focal point in your garden. Photos courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries.

Well, what else can I say – what else is there to say? This fabulous foliage perennial speaks for itself – why not let a Heuchera talk to you?

Til next time,
Sue
 
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