“White coral bells upon a slender stalk
Lilies of the valley grace my garden walk.
Oh, don’t you wish that you could hear them ring?
That will happen only when the fairies sing!”
I learned this song, generally sung as a round, in grade school, but I didn’t actually see a coral bell until high school, when I noticed one growing in Grandma’s flower border. It caught my eye when I noticed a hummingbird feeding on its tiny coral-pink blooms. Grandma picked a few stems for me to take home, and they lasted for several days in a vase by my bed. As soon as I had my own garden, I planted coral bells throughout the lightly shaded and sunny areas. I loved the way the knee-high stems with their airy blooms filled in here and there. The blooms were long-lasting, and were hummingbird magnets, adding to the delight of the garden.
Heucheras have been around for centuries, and were probably an early member of the Cottage Garden. In those days, it was called “Alum root.”
This hardy perennial forms a low-growing rosette of scalloped leaves. In Grandmother’s day, the leaves were always a nice, medium green. The tiny bell-shaped flowers were generally white or coral-pink, sometimes red, on tall stems that swayed gently in the breeze. Granny would hardly recognize the coral bell of today. Plant breeders have developed plants with leaves in a rainbow of colors. The early ones were green with white flecks. Then several varieties with purple to deep burgundy, almost black leaves appeared in the market place. One of the first was a seed-grown variety called “Palace Purple.” Soon there were others like “Velvet Night.”Now, gardeners can find heucheras with lime green leaves, various shades of golden leaves, various shades of rose leaves, and leaves with a colored edge. There are also now ruffled leaves, and leaves with striking variegation, like “Venus.”
In addition, the variety of bloom colors has increased, as well as flower size. In addition to white, shades of pink and rose are available, and striking reds. Whatever the color, the hummingbirds love them all!
Heucheras are easy-to-grow in sun or light shade, as long as they have good drainage, especially over winter. The common varieties can be grown from seed. Once the clump reaches a good size, 8” or more in width, they can be easily divided. In fact, it is a good idea to divide them, or the centers can get woody and tall, and sometimes begin to die out.
When visiting the famous DuPont estate, Winterthur, in Delaware a few years ago, I happened to ramble through a woodland path in late September. A large patch of white flowers caught my eye. It looked like a large coral bell, but to my knowledge, coral bells bloomed in June, and certainly not in shade as dense as the area I was in at that moment. I was able to find an estate gardener, who told me that it was indeed a Heuchera called “Autumn Bride.” I immediately ordered some, and have been happily growing them in my shadiest gardens since. They offer wonderful color in early autumn, and the deer don’t seem to bother them, even in a woodland setting.
Another year, I was visiting a garden in California that specialized in miniature plants. The darling little coral bells they had in their garden were the highlight of my trip! Needless to say, I had to add them to my collection.
There are many named varieties, many of which are patented. The one being touted most right now is “Miracle.”
We expect to have the following varieties:
“Amethyst Mist”-blackish purple leaves with a silvery blue overtone and black veining. Undersides are rich purple. Silver color increases in autumn. Cream flowers, 26
“August Moon”-fall blooms of white on light green foliage that does well in shade, 18”.
“Firefly”-a seed-grown selection with green leaves, bright red blooms. 24”
“Frosted Velvet”-A vigorous grower with deep maroon-purple leaves, maturing even darker as fall temperatures drop. Pink flowers, 30”
“Key Lime Pie,”
“Obsidian”-Deep purplish-black leaves have a polished luster. Forms a compact, tight mound that is ideal for edgings or containers. Smoky purple buds, cream flowers, 24”
“Petite Pearl Fairy”-a miniature selection with burgundy leaves. Quickly forms a wide mound that remains about 2” tall. Delicate pink flowers appear on 8” stems. Perfect for Fairy or Railroad gardens.
“Sparkling Burgundy”-Black cherry colored foliage sparkles in spring and summer, then darkens as temperatures fall. White flowers in abundance, 16”
“Plum Pudding”- Deep purple plum colored leaves with darker veining and deep purple undersides. Slightly ruffled edges. Cream flowers, 26”