Prized for their colourful leaves, these versatile semi-evergreen perennials make excellent drifts of ground cover, adding a distinctive splash of colour to the front of borders, or even brightening winter containers. Easy to grow, they will provide a great display year after year.
'Palace Purple' is a small but striking plant with plush, shiny, rich purple foliage. Although the colour is at its very best in early summer, it is retained all year. The leaves are 10cm (4in) across, very similar to maple leaves in shape. In midsummer the plants flower with short, upright stems of small, creamy white, bell flowers.
In the garden they associate well with other compact plants as their foliage makes a good foil for both bright colours and pastels they look especially good used around the edge of a border. Different cultivars can be used together to good effect.
It produces tall panicles of little bell-flowers on wirey stems for May and June, then if dead-headed, reblooms for August & September. Each wirey stem of blooms can be quite long-lasting in the garden. They'll last up to a week in indoor bouquets
The species with the most colourful leaves, such as “Palace Purple” generally have the least colourful flowers; while conversely, those species with the most intensely vibrant blooms have plain green leaves. This has tended to cause the gardener to have to choose between colourfully leafed heucheras, or bright flowers, as getting both on one plant seems not to be in the cards.
The National Garden Bureau (NGB) chose the Heuchera as its perennial of the year for 2012.
Sowing: Sow either in late summer/autumn or late winter/late spring
Sow either in late summer to autumn or late winter to late spring at 18 to 22°C (65 to 70°F). Sow on the surface of pots or trays containing a good seed compost mix. (John Innes or similar). Water from the base of the tray to moisten the compost and then drain.
Germination can be a little erratic, and can be as quick as 10 days, but may be up to 60 days. Keep the compost moist but not wet at all times.
Prick out each seedling once it has its first set of “true” leaves, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots and grow them on in frost free conditions until large enough to plant outside. When they are well grown and all risk of frost has passed, acclimatise them to outdoor conditions over 7 to 10 days before planting them outdoors.
Heuchera plants dislike soils which are particularly dry or have a tendency to water logging. Plant them in moist, fertile, well drained soil, adding plenty of compost or well rotted manure to amend heavy clay or sandy soils. Choose a position towards the front of the border in full sun or semi shade.
Heuchera grow most vigorously and have the strongest colours when grown in partial shade (preferably afternoon shade). They can also be grown in full shade but their growth rate will be slower.
Feed and water coral flower plants regularly until they are fully established. Apply a mulch of well rotted manure around the mature crown of each plant each spring to keep the mature crown in contact with the soil. They must have good drainage over the winter, so don't over-do the overwintering mulching. The plant will also benefit from dead-heading.
Heuchera produces tall panicles of little bell-flowers on wirey stems for May and June, then if dead-headed, reblooms for August and September. Each wirey stem of blooms can be quite long-lasting in the garden. They'll last up to a week in indoor bouquets
Lift and divide clumps of Heuchera every three years to maintain vigorous, healthy growth. Plants can be divided successfully at almost any time if kept well-watered afterwards. However, division is usually most successful while plants aren’t in active growth in autumn.
Dig around clumps about 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) deep and gently lift the clump out of the ground. Brush off the soil and examine their roots. Separate the plants by tugging on the roots to divide them. You can also use a sharp knife to divide the roots. Each section should have healthy roots and a healthy section of the plant. The centre, woody part of the clump should be discarded. Replant immediately.
Cottage/Informal Gardens or Flowers Borders and Beds. Shade and Woodland Gardens, Ground cover under deciduous trees. Avoid dry soil with full sun
Heuchera micrantha is native to the western United States and Canada. It typically grows in the inner-coastal areas of California, through the Cascades and the Sierras in pine, evergreen and redwood forests.
H. micrantha tolerates wet roots better than other coral bell varieties. Its reddish-green foliage and dainty white flowers grow on 60cm (24in) spikes. H. micrantha lend their wavy leaves to any hybrid, ruffled form on the market today.
Heuchera are an all-American plant, different species hail from the islands off the California coast to the highest mountains in the Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico. There are nearly 50 species. Inhabiting woodlands, prairies, and mountainous regions, further south they can be seen growing amidst cactus in Mexico. The most common species used in today’s hybrids are H. sanguinea, H. americana, H. micrantha, H. villosa, and H cylindrica. A further group of hybrids arose from crossing Heuchera with Tiarella, to form Heucherella.
Botanical illustrations have shown Heuchera in different European collections of American plants which date back to 1601. The first American seed catalogue was produced by a man known as Bernard McMahon in 1804. Heuchera americana, an east-coast native, was offered in this catalogue.
It wasn't until 1980 when Brian Halliwell released Heuchera villosa ‘Palace Purple’ that these plants were accepted as foliage plants. At about the same time, Dale Hendricks of Northcreek Nurseries released a strain of Heuchera americana called ‘Dale’s Strain’. These two plants were hybridised to form the first foliage varieties, and the rest, they say, is history.
Bernard McMahon (also known as M'Mahon) was an Irish-American horticulturist. He is credited with printing the first extensive gardener's seed catalogue in 1804. Just two years later, in 1806, he would publish the first-ever book on gardening in the US.
The America Gardener’s Calendar is the most comprehensive gardening book published in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century. The seed catalogue was attached as an appendix and circulated with his Calendar.
After M’Mahons death in 1818 the Yorkshire botanist Thomas Nuttall named Mahonia in his honour.
The America Gardener’s Calendar is still a very useful guide to planting, caring for and harvesting one’s garden and can be read in its entirety online.
Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677-1746) was an Austrian-born medical botanist and professor of medicine at Wittenberg, later Dresden in Germany. He was a friend of Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy. Linnaeus would often name plants in honour of his friends and in 1738 he did so with von Heucher. Being Austrian, his name was pronounced "Hoyker," and, you guessed it, the plant should be pronounced "Hoy-ker-uh".
The species name micrantha takes its meaning from micra meaning 'small' and anthus meaning ‘a flower’, thus 'small-flowered'. The flowers are relatively dainty on most varieties of heuchera.
The genus includes at least 50 species of herbaceous perennial plants in the family Saxifragaceae.
Aside from the common name of coral bells, it was also called alum root due to its medicinal qualities. Native Americans used them to stop wounds from bleeding. The stems can be used in a pinch if you cut yourself in the garden.
The original 'Purple Palace' was discovered in a Royal Palace in England, hence the name. It is believed to be a H micrantha x H villosa hybrid, (New England Guide 2000) which was then crossed with H americana.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10mg Average Seed Count 200 Seeds Family Saxifragaceae Genus Heuchera Species micrantha Cultivar Palace Purple Synonym Heuchera micrantha var. diversifolia, Heuchera villosa Common Name Coral Bells, Alumroot Other Common Names Coralbells, Alum Root Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Pale Reddish Purple in May to August Height 45 to 60cm (18 to 24in) Spread 40cm (16in) Position Full sun. Partial Shade. Shade Soil Well-drained/light, Acidic, Chalky/alkaline Time to Sow Late spring/early summer or late summer/autumn. Germination 10 to 60 days