Foliage that's perfect for winter
PUBLISHED: 13:37 21 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:50 21 November 2016
Looking for some interesting options for containers to add some winter cheer to your garden? Heucheras and heucherellas are the perfect choice. Words and pictures by: Leigh Clapp
Although there are some floral options at this time of the year, foliage is more enduring for the winter garden and can even be more visually arresting. Heucheras and heucherallas are popular for their versatility and the range of coloured foliage through a constant stream of new varieties being added to the palette.
Modern hybrids with foliage hues in dark purples, burnt oranges to lime greens along with interesting lobed and frilly leaf shapes can look their best in autumn and remain in excellent condition through winter, so make ideal container specimens. The hardier varieties will last for several years until they become overcrowded in their pots.
I went along to meet Simon Sutcliffe of How Green Nursery in Hever, a family run trade nursery that has a wide range of perennials and other plants, including an impressive collection of heucheras and heucherellas.
Having seen many of the nursery’s plants at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, as well as in designers’ gardens, such as Jo Thompson and Marian Boswall, whom we have featured in Kent Life, I knew of Simon as an expert grower.
With the aim of growing and supplying plants where quality is paramount and offering an ever-expanding range, the nursery is a popular choice for designers. You may have seen their plants at garden retailers, historic houses such as Penshurst Place and Hever Castle, and in local authority displays.
“The business was started by my parents and we’re in our 34th year of trading,” says Simon. “I joined 20 years ago after studying commercial horticulture at Hadlow College. I love the great outdoors and have a passion for herbaceous perennials, especially new ones. We introduce 200 new plants a year here.”
The nursery stocks more than 50 varieties of heucheras and heucherellas and Simon recommends these adaptable plants as being ideal in patio pots, hanging baskets and borders.
“Position containers in autumn and winter near to the house, so when the weather is bad you can still enjoy them out of the window.
“My five favourites would have to be Heuchera ‘Fire Chief’, a lovely red variety; Heuchera ‘Circus’, a yellow-leaved variety with amazing red veining in spring; Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’, a beautiful orange-bronze with maple-shaped leaves; Heucherella ‘Tapestry’, green foliage with a dark overlay and beautiful foamy flowers in spring and Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, very dark, almost black foliage that is a great foil for other shade loving plants.”
Despite being a trade nursery there are opportunities for us to buy their plants, which range from perennials to bulbs, alpines, succulents and grasses, ferns and herbs, to trees, hedging and shrubs.
Mail order is a new venture and each year they hold open days for the public, including for the National Gardens Scheme.
“We will also be having a new series of winter talks, including one designer we grew for this year at the Chelsea Flower Show.
“There are no firm dates as yet, but check our website for details. And we are already booked in to grow for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2017 – our fifth year on the trot!” w
Find out more
How Green Nursery, Hever TN8 7PS
Mail order, topiary hire for weddings and events, public open weekends each year, plants also sold at Penshurst Place Plant Centre, Hever Castle, Wood Cottage Nursery in Maidstone and other retailers
Did you know?
• Heucheras, coral bells, are native to North America
• The first purple-leafed heuchera that became popular was ‘Palace Purple’, so called as it was found at the Queen’s Palace in Kew
• Heuchera rust is a disease of the foliage caused by a fungus and spread by airborne spores. It is common in the USA but only recorded here for the first time in 2004 and has since become widespread, especially during wet summers.
• The tiny little summer flowers attract bees and are useful also as cut flowers
• Heucherella is a fairly new genus, made by crossing heuchera with tiarella, and is highly resistant to rust
Get the look: tips for growing
• Grow in containers, as ground cover or edging borders
• Part shade in rich well-drained soils for heucheras, more shade for heucherellas
• The darker the foliage colour, the more tolerant of full sun. Yellow and orange-leaved varieties can scorch in full sun
• For containers use a loam-based compost with good drainage. Mulch the surface with grit or gravel as it helps keep wet and soil off the leaves through winter
• Check foliage carefully when buying heucheras to ensure healthy
• Remove any old leaves in autumn to help prevent rust fungus overwintering
• Ensure good air ventilation around pots and areas where heucheras are planted
• Water plants in the morning so leaves dry out
• Companion plants include mini cyclamen, phormium, carex, skimmia, ivy, heather, cornus, sarcococca and chrysanthemum
• The main pest for heucheras and heucherellas is the vine weevil, control by removal or use a chemical or biological control
Plant of the month
• Hardy/half-hardy perennial
• Late-season blooms in October and November
• Colours in rich golds, orange, pinks and crimsons to reds
• Ideal cut flower
• Dwarf cultivars are the easiest to grow in containers or borders
• Some are raised under glass so need more protection and are best in containers in the garden in a sheltered spot
• All need a sunny, warm spot in improved rich soil
• Plant out hardened young plants in May either within pots sunk into the beds or directly into the ground
• Most will require pinching out and staking
• In the border combine with nerines and autumn crocus
• Cut back after flowering
• Bring containers inside over winter
• Cover garden varieties with a protective mulch over winter
Jobs to be done
• Plant tulip bulbs now. Select plump, firm bulbs and plant in containers or a sunny spot in the garden
• Weeding, clearing paths and cleaning pots now will make it easier to get the garden going in spring
• Tidy borders, cut down collapsed plants but leave some that fade elegantly such as sedums and grasses
• This is a good time to plant bare-rooted trees, shrubs, roses and hedging. Trees planted in November require less water and aftercare
• Move tender plants inside or cover with fleece or similar to protect from freezing conditions