Years ago, back in the day, you could find a little unassuming perennial at the front of the border. It had small, green leaves and tiny red flowers on the end of tall stems. The Heuchera. It was the sort of plant that reliably plugged a gap and provided a bit of foliage, as a backdrop to more glamorous neighbours.
Then one day, someone looked at the humble little Heuchera and saw its potential, so they began to produce different varieties. It started with some rather nice reds, some of which were dark and rich, like 'Plum Pudding', 'Black Beauty' and 'Obsidian'. They were good, sound garden plants, reliably providing long-lasting colour, especially in the months when colour is a luxury. Lovely little pools of darkness in the borders.
Almost overnight, the floodgates opened, and a deluge of brightly coloured Heucheras came flooding onto the market. There was a rainbow of lurid lime greens, apricots, sulphur- yellows and purples, and the names, as well as the foliage, were guarenteed to attract attention. Names like 'Berrie Smoothie' sounded more like something attractive to eat, than something to grow. Somehow, they were designed to attract the attention of the 'Sunday Gardener', enroute from the Garden Centre Coffee shop to the bedding plants.
These plants do not know the meaning of the word 'subtle', they are bold as brass and in your face, big showoffs, dancing in the limelight and outshining all around them.
They are the slightly vulgar cousin of the respectable, hardworking green original Heuchera. The gaudy newcomers in the garden, drawing far too much attention to themselves.
However, not all the new varieties are bright, as there are also some limp, faded colours, like well washed clothes. Some of them look sickly, as though they are already dying off, even when they are in the peak of health.
But am I alone in my dislike of these Brave New Heucheras ? My local proper nursery owner, at 'Appleby Nursery', says they sell extremely well, particularly at this time of the year, when there is not much else around, so perhaps I am in the minority.
I can see why they are attractive to some people - you buy them, you plant them, you leave them, you enjoy them. No staking or pruning or lifting or cutting back. They couldn't be easier to look after.
Some of them, I really do love. The leaves are delicate and interesting, like 'Tapestry' above and 'Greenspice' below. The colours are rich without being gaudy, and they add to the colour and texture in the border. They all represent fantastic value as they can be bought for a few pounds, and will live for years in the garden.
I feel that I am being manipulated by the growers, in this 'stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap Garden Centre ethos, who sell their plants with the same marketing techniques used to sell soap powder or shoes. Give me the old fashioned nursery grower any day. I suppose I feel that the new generation of Heucheras are designed to appeal to people who don't usually buy plants.
Like everything else, the appeal of a plant is a personal thing. For me, this Brave New World of Heucheras is something to be examined variety by variety, plant by plant. There are some fantastic plants in there and some absolute turkeys, and I will be very interested to see which ones are still being used extensively in gardens in ten years time.