Sunday, 10 November 2013

Brave New World of the Heuchera



Sugar Plum

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.

Black Beauty

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.

Yellowstone Falls

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.

Solarpower
Shanghai

Paprika

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.

Caramel

Marmalade

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.

Tapestry

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.

Greenspice
So why do I feel  that this new generation of Heucheras are imposters in the world of 'real plants' ?  I think it is because they look slightly unreal, like those brightly coloured heathers which are in garden Centres at the moment, and have clearly been dipped or sprayed in dayglo colours. They also remind me of plastic flowers, in that there is an unreal quality to them.

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.

16 comments:

  1. I wasn't aware of the gaudier heucheras, I see what you mean about the sickly ones with invisible arteries.
    Aren't most of our garden plants a result of human manipulation though? Where do you draw the line between right and wrong? Beauty is in the eye of the plant breeder.

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    1. Or is it dollar signs in the eye of the plant breeder ? I agree completely that our garden plants are a result of human manipulation, and thank goodness they did it, as they have given us some glorious plants. Maybe this flooding of the market just seems a little more calculated . I'm sure I'm in the minority and most people love them !

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  2. I don't mind the brighter ones but those paler varieties look half dead. Maybe they need to find the right plant to sit alongside to bring out their personality? Or maybe not. Plant breeders are always on the lookout for something new to tempt us and let's face it, many gardeners are more interested in novelty than buying a good plant. But too many plants are released with inadequate long term trials. Not such a big deal for little plants like heuchera but a major problem when it's a tree that fails after 5 years, or grows twice as big as anyone expected.

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    1. It will be interesting to see which ones are still around in ten years time, and have stood the test of time. All the reds I have are fabulous performers, but I don't know about the 'wishy washy ones, as I don't grow them !

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  3. I guess it's the mindset of throw them out there, and see what sells. If I were a plant breeder, I'd want mine out there, too! I love some of the new heucheras, and wish they grew well here (our nights are too hot for them). I think having a large variety to color-coordinate wherever in the garden you wish to plant one is a fun problem to have!

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    1. Oh how I wish our nights were too hot to grow them :-)
      As Catherine says, maybe they need the right plant to sit alongside to bring out their good points ! There are certainly lots of colours to experiment with !

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  4. I agree with you, plant breeders seem not to know when to stop. Just because you managed to breed a plant that looks pale and malnourished doesn't mean it's a success! I love the dark Heucheras and the lovely tapestry type that you show, but orangey and yellowy hues are somehow not true to the plant.

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    1. There are so many out there ! They seemed to appear overnight !

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  5. A few years ago I had never even heard of Heucheras, so at least all these new "plant supermarket" varieties have brought them to the attention of people like me! Their great advantage to the modern nurseries is that they look good in 15cm pots and so they catch the eye of impulse buyers and, as you say, non-gardeners. But sometimes they also catch the eyes of people like me who love gardening and just haven't come across them before. I now have 3 and am loving them. I suppose that like all fads, the worthwhile varieties will stand the test of time and the others will quietly fade away.

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    1. Hi Lyn, they certainly do grab your attention! Like them or hate them ... you can't ignore them ! I suppose they have novelty value which appeals to the non gardener as well as real 'plant people'. I love the ones I have, but they don't all appeal, by a long way !

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  6. I for one am a big fan of what's been going on in the brave new world of Heuchera! I love the new colors and patterns, although it's important to caution that not all Heucheras perform the same. We had a big problem in Knoxville, TN with Heucheras that couldn't stand up to our hot, humid summers or chilly winters. However, that's to be expected when these plants are mass produced by tissue culture in a very different region of the country (like Oregon). It's best to look for cultivars that have performed well in your region before buying from a reliable, local independent garden center or nursery.

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  7. Hi Amanda, thanks for your comments and your advice, which I think is true for most plants. For us in the uk it is sometimes worth buying plants from a nursery further North, as the plants will have proved their hardiness in a slightly cooler climate than ours.

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  8. I enjoy experimentation but I I don't like being overwhelmed. I'm a SLOW gardener, sister to the SLOW food types. I like to think and ponder and observe. I like a history to go along with a newly developed plant. In days gone by new plants would be grown for several years to test their worthiness for introduction to the market. Now we have to be the testers and incur the loss.

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    1. Hi Susan, thanks for your comments. I know just what you mean, I love a plant to have history, and it adds a whole other dimension. The old roses, like Rosa Mundi, for example , have such romantic stories attached to them. These bold, brash newcomers will have to prove their worth !

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  9. I guess for us we stick to begonias... looks a bit like heuchera :-)

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  10. That is true Stephanie - although some of these varieties are better not grown ! They look so sickly ! Some, however, are totally fab and I would hate to not be able to grow them

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