Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Plant Profiles: Heucheras

Heuchera Peach Flambe
Heuchera 'Peach Flambe', planted in a shady pot and neglected dreadfully since 2009, yet still going strong. 

Regular readers know I like heucheras a lot, a genus I discovered for the first time when I was deciding what to do with the design and planting of VP Gardens 15 years ago.

At that time the choice available had started to explode, mainly due to the breeding developments by Dan Heims in Oregon and Thierry Delabroye in France. Before then, cultivars were mainly darkish green with red flowers - hence their common names 'coral flower' and 'coral bells' - with pink or white flowers by way of variation.

Now the choice embraces the darkest of blacks through to the limiest of greens, with plenty of hints of caramel, ginger and mottling along the way.

Heuchera flower - they bloom in summer
Most heucheras are front of border plants, though their airy loved-by-bees flowers make them seem much taller

The garden's sometimes resembled an archaeological dig this year after my clearing away the shrubbery, with some forgotten heucheras brought blinking back into the light, despite my placing them at the front of the border. It's interesting to see which ones have withstood this treatment - H. 'Licorice', H. 'Obsidian', H. 'Green Spice', H. 'Silver Scrolls', and H. 'Chocolate Ruffles' have definitely stood the test of time.

I confess my dalliance with the lime-green (H. 'Key Lime Pie' and H. 'Lime Rickey') and caramel (H. 'Creme Brulee') varieties has come to an end. Despite their shady setting the lime green varieties tended to become washed-out looking and H. 'Creme Brulee' always seemed like it was at death's door.

Heuchera 'Brownies'

There is one exception that proves the rule at VP Gardens; the pictured gigantic-leaved H. 'Brownies' loves the spot I've given it in the double terrace beds, though I confess I do cut off the older, lighter coloured leaves when they start looking sorry for themselves. Note to self: must do that soon.

The lighter and caramel cultivars helped me understand why heucheras don't have universal approval - they can be a bit of a 'Marmite' plant. Don't be put off by my remarks if you like them, I've seen them looking good in other settings; it's me and my garden that's at fault.


Cultivation Notes

Heuchera 'Green Spice'
Heucheras are a tough,  fully hardy evergreen plant suitable for most spots towards the front of the border, though they're usually happiest in dappled or light shade. A general rule of thumb is the darker the leaf, the more sun tolerant they are. I've found that full sun or heavy shade tends to produce smaller plants.

They prefer moist, well-drained soils, though I've found they do well on my lime clay soil as long as I don't put them in the wettest part of the garden. They can heave themselves out of the soil, and I've simply reburied a healthy looking part of the root which tends to do the trick.

Close up leaf showing leaf hairs
Hairy leaves keep slugs at bay
The literature say they're a short-lived perennial, but some of my plants are 15 years old. Perhaps my heave/rebury cycle has successfully replaced the divide every 2-3 years I've seen in most guidance. In the spring I give my plants a general tidy up by removing dead and damaged leaves, plus any remaining old flower stems.

They're a magnet for vine weevil, so much so I quarantine my heucheras for a few weeks before planting them out. I've found even heavily attacked plants can recover; if you can find a piece of root with just one root hair left, then this is enough to make a new plant from what initially seems a disaster. I also treat my potted heucheras with nematodes in the spring and autumn as a matter of routine.

Heuchera 'Chocolate Ruffles'
I didn't know until I researched this piece that there are 2 species of nematode available, Steinernema kraussei and Heterorhabtidis megidis. It's important to know which one you have because they become effective at different soil temperatures, a minimum of 5oC and 12oC respectively. As the temperature is needed for a minimum of 2 weeks after application (and they need soil moisture too), this can have a major effect on when each species can be applied.


You may also like:

  • My look at H. 'Lime Rickey' for ABC Wednesday 
  • My Heuchera Haul post from my Open Garden blog in 2008, showcasing some of the cultivars I was growing at the time
  • Glimpses of H 'Blackbird', H. 'Blackout' and H. 'Chocolate Ruffles' in previous posts
  • My trip to Mount St. Helens in Washington State USA, where I found Tiarella trifoliata - a close cousin of the heuchera - growing in the wild 
  • Val Bourne's article from The Telegraph in 2003. She talks about the inclusion of 201 cultivars in the RHS's 1999-2001 trials, which shows how much the choice has exploded since then. I have the H. 'Palace Purple', H. 'Pewter Moon' and H. 'Mint Frost' she mentions, in my garden.
Anyone wanting to know more about heucheras will enjoy Dan Heims' book Heucheras and Heucherellas. The only caveat I have now is it doesn't cover the latest cultivars and there's loads of them, thanks to his and Thierry Delabroye's work

For the latest list, look at, which claims to be the complete database of all things heuchera. A search for 'heuchera' on the RHS website, returns a list of 621 possibilities.

The National Collection of Heuchera is at the Plantagogo nursery near Crewe.


Latin without tears

Heuchera is named after Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677 - 1746), a Viennese-born physician who was also a keen botanist specialising in medicinal plants. The plants are native to Canada, USA and northern Mexico.

Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note to Readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words are my own. There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this (or any) post.


  1. I love them but they just don't seem to thrive for me. One that has is Cafe Ole although it does tend to do that woody stem thing and needs cutting back. Perhaps I need to try them in a bit more shade.

    1. Good point, Jessica re the woody stem - they can also be used for propagation. I look forward to hearing how you get on with trying more shade.

  2. When you get over to Wales, you will have to come over and see mine. I have one that Karen covets. Bronze Beauty. It is huge. Think I got it at Malvern many years ago. Can't find it in any of the nurseries or garden centres we visit. Have you seen the new 'Big Top' varieties? I do like my Heucheras.

  3. I am always surprised at how much the bees love the tiny flowers. They seem quite insignificant to us that are usually covered with bees

    1. I'm always amazed they can find their way in there, Sue but judging by the buzzing going on, they manage it :)

  4. I wish they loved my garden. I see them in the wild growing on cliffs where they get the moisture and drainage they need. I have had good success with Heuchera villosa 'Autumn Bride'. You would love the big leaves and autumn flowers.

    1. That's a shame Gail - I think they'd look great in the 'Garden of Benign Neglect'. I'll look out for that one, along with the ones Dobby's recommended.

    2. That's a shame Gail - I think they'd look great in the 'Garden of Benign Neglect'. I'll look out for that one, along with the ones Dobby's recommended.

  5. Hello VP, I've hopped here from an urban veg patch. I bought one heuchera from a plant stall at Blickling in October 1998 (I remember it well as my son had just started school and the weather was just too nice for a five year old to be stuck in a classroom so we snuck off to a cottage and had the best week visiting the How Hill nature reserve, seal spotting on sandy beaches, travelling on the Poppy line and practising our bike riding on the quiet lanes) and it is still going strong all around my garden. The fresh apple green foliage lasts all year and the frothy pink flowers on wiry stems keep going for about eight months of the year. Both foliage and flowers work well in arrangements. I do replant fresh bits every year which is one of my simplest gardening jobs. I wouldn't be without it. Your blog looks very interesting, I might be here a while!

    1. Hi Sarah and welcome :) I've found the flowers are long lasting too, which is good news for the bees. You've made a very good point on how easy Heucheras are to replant and propogate.

      I hope you've enjoyed your first visit!

  6. Another heuchera fan here VP. I can always find room for more :) Vicky Fox from Plantagogo gives excellent talks to garden clubs on growing heucheras and for anybody in reach of Cheshire the nursery has some open days coming up in the first half of October.

    1. Thanks Anna.

      NB for those of us down south Sean and Jules at Heucheraholics have an open weekend at their New Forest nursery in October too.


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