Monday, March 29, 2010

Coral Bells


At last… Spring! The weather has been blustery but balmy, leaving those of us who garden with perfect days to prepare the garden for the coming season. The perennials are making their appearance and among them is the fabulous Heuchera, commonly known to your great grandmother as ‘Coral Bells’. Exceedingly popular a century ago, they lost favor for a few years until their 1991 win as the Perennial Plant Association’s ‘Plant of the Year’; since then they have made a rollicking come-back. Reintroducing themselves in the latest finery, the spectrum of their foliage colors is indeed astonishing! Native to all of North America, Coral Bells were first discovered in woodlands and trails before making their way to the garden.

April through October the faithful habit of this hardy perennial sends forth delicate stalks which rise above the foliage to produce bright bell shaped flowers. In shades of coral, red, white or pink, these sweet flowers are half an inch in length with five petals.

The most attractive feature however is the Coral Bell’s spectacular foliage that provides a striking focal point in any garden setting. A wide array of leaf forms, either ruffled or wavy, are available in stunning colors which include green, pink, red, purple, bronze and silver. Never invasive, this lady can be trusted to know her place in the garden, staying in tidy clumps rather than wandering.

‘Amber Waves’ is among the most exquisite emerging with ruffled amber foliage that changes to burnt orange as the leaves age. With the addition of the rose colored flower, she is indeed a show stopper. Another is ’Black Beauty’ with deep purple-burgundy leaves of outstanding ruffling that stand slightly upright to catch the sun from all directions. ’Bronze Beauty’ is extremely heat tolerant and provides shades of creamy white flowers over the extremely large peach, orange and bronze leaves below. And although the list seems endless, 'Encore' must be mentioned as she starts out in the spring with deep rose purple colored leaves that have a light silvering on top, darker veins, with a vibrant burgundy on the underside. With maturity. the leaves turn lighter rose and produce a heavy silver overlay over deep smoky-purple veins.

Hummingbirds adore them and deer find them distasteful, which is part of the reason for their popularity. The Coral Bell adapts and thrives in almost any garden but prefers light shade and moist feet to sun and dust. Prized for longevity, they will last for decades with little care, a trait which is always appreciated by the gardener.

*Photo credit: My dear friend and horticultural specialist Mr. Jeremy Webber at Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut... Heuchera are one of his favorites. Also credited is Mr. Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries. One of his favorite creations, this beauty is 'Gypsy Dancer'.