Year of the Heuchera

H. ‘Peach Crisp’
Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

The National Garden Bureau Inc. (NGB) is declaring 2012 the Year of the Heuchera, Herb and Geranium (actually Pelargoniums). Each year representatives of the professional horticulture industry select one flower/bedding plant and one vegetable to be showcased. In 2012, they are adding a perennial to their selections. The plants are chosen because they are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile…all of which perfectly describe Heuchera.

Fine Gardening’s plant pronunciation tool pronounces Heuchera as “Hew-ker-uh,” but the plant was named after Johann Heinrich von Heucher, an Austrian professor of medicine and botany, whose last name was pronounced “Hoyker.” According to the NGB, the plant should be pronounced “hoy-ker-uh.” Relatives of Heuchera include Bergenia, Tiarella, Saxifrage, Mukdenia and Rodgersia all of which are in the Saxifrage family.

H. ‘Southern Comfort’
Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Nearly 50 species of Heuchera originate from islands off the California coast to mountains in the Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico. What started out as a plant commonly known as coral bells (H. sanguine) for its delicate sprays of flowers emerged with the introduction in 1980 of H. villosa “Purple Palace” as a garden powerhouse because of its colorful foliage. Florists are beginning to use the long-lasting Heuchera leaves in floral arrangements to add pops of color. Today, breeders are combining species to create stronger, more adaptable and colorful plants.

Terra Nova Nurseries, located in Canby, Ore., has developed a rainbow of Heuchera adaptable to virtually every region of the U.S. As with other breeders, they use five species:

H. americana – survives extreme hot and cold with mounding habit and the most exciting leaf patterns
H. villosa – hairy large leaves take heat and humidity
H. micrantha – source of wavy foliage and has the best tolerance to wet roots
H. cylindrical – compact form with rigid flower stems
H. sanguine – extremely drought and heat tolerant with excellent flower color range

For example, Terra Nova Nurseries introduced Heuchera ‘Peach Crisp’ as part of their Crisp™ series. Its breeding relies most heavily on micrantha, but also sanguine and americana. Offering a similar cinnamon peach color but very different in leaf form is ‘Southern Comfort’, which relies most heavily on americana, but also micrantha and villosa breeding.

H. ‘Delta Dawn’
Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Because I love, love, love chartreuse in my garden, I wanted to share a 2011 exclusive Terra Nova Nurseries introduction: H. ‘Delta Dawn’. Here’s how Terra Nova describes it in their catalog: “‘Delta Dawn’ has large, round leaves with red centers in the spring and fall; in summer its red veins run like rivers to the sea. The gorgeous gold to lime main leaf color highlights the venation. Strong, vigorous habit. Perfect for a shade container or to add color to a dark area.”

Heuchera require well-drained soil and do well in raised beds, on a berm, or in containers. According to NGB, “even mounding the soil slightly where you plant them will help.” In the Northwest, many do well sited in sun to partial shade. As they grow, their crowns rise up and out of the soil. Mulch to protect the crown, or lift, divide and replant every two to three years in the spring.

For more information on NGB’s “Year of” selections, visit their web site. Terra Nova Nurseries’ web site offers good information to home gardeners.