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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Coral Bells Enhance a Shade Garden

This summer I plan to add a shade garden behind my gazebo. My mind is swirling with ideas to include in this garden. I envision pathways that lead to a bench or statue and a variety of shade loving plants dotted throughout the space.

I'm anxious to try a various shade appropriate plants in my new garden. I'll include the usual hosta and fern, but there are so many more choices for shade gardens. Here I will focus on heuchera, which was named the 2012 plant of the year by National Garden Bureau.

Heuchera (pronounced HOY-ker-uh) is known by the common name coral bells. This plant has many attributes and is pretty at all stages. The leaves form a low non-spreading mound. Red, pink, or white flowers are small, bell-like clusters that appear in late spring and summer and are a favorite of hummingbirds.

Coral bells are available in a number of flower and leaf colors. 'Palace Purple' coral bells were the 1991 Perennial Plant of the Year. Purple tinged leaves give the plant its name. The mahogany-red foliage fades to bronze-green during summer heat. The flowers of this variety are white and reach a height of 12 to 24 inches.

Since "Palace Purple's" introduction there has been an explosion of new heuchera cultivars and hybrids. Many recent introductions are selected for their unique leaf colors and textures. A good example is chocolate ruffles, which has purple-brown young foliage that mounds to 12 inches. Delicate white flowers perch above the chocolate leaves.

'Crimson Curls' as the name suggests has distinctly curly, crimson foliage with intense crimson color in spring. Attractive white flowers appear on 18 inch burgundy stems.

'Berry Smoothie' has rose pink leaves that gradually darken to purple-pink. Delicate pink flowers rise two foot above its colorful foliage.

In addition to pink and purple foliage, heuchera is also available in various shades of yellow. 'Citronelle' is a compact coral bell with yellow-green leaves on rosy red stems. Its creamy white flowers appear 12 inches above the tight clump of leaves. 'Citronelle' flowers in summer, a bit later than most other heuchera.

There are so many different heuchera types in the trade today that I could go on and on. To learn more, attend Gardeners' Big Day March 31st at Dickson Mounds Museum. Bob Streitmatter of Luthy Botanical Garden will discuss gardening in the shade, focusing on plant palette and design techniques. More information about this program, including online registration, can be found on our website at

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