A Leafy Love Affair – Coral Bells

Fans of foliage will love heucheras, a genus of perennial plants also known as coral bells. These plants were extremely popular in the Victorian era so have some ‘old-fashioned’ associations, but since the 1980s their image has been completely transformed by the arrival of a number of new varieties.

The draw of plants is often their intricate flowers that tend to steal the spotlight, and while there is no doubt that heuchera flowers are stunning, their true beauty lies in their leaves, with every pattern, texture and shape imaginable.

These popular perennials add a pop of colour and fun to shade gardens, with the vast range of options bound to satisfy any kind of gardener.

Why coral bells?

  • Coral bells can withstand a good amount of heat and humidity as well as a lack of water, making them perfect for water-wise gardens.
  • The nectar of the small flowers attracts butterflies and birds.
  • This plant knows how to play well with others and is perfectly happy in a container with a few friends.

The range of varieties is endless, and this shows no signs of slowing down with new ones coming out regularly.

Some of our favourite Coral Bells:

‘Peach Melba’

This graceful variety comes in colours from peach to pink to orange. Tiny blush flowers emerge on tall red stems in a combination that almost imitates fallen autumn leaves, but is all year round.

‘Plum Pudding’

If Peach Melba was a wholesome Disney princess, ‘Plum Pudding’ would have to be the movie villain, making its way onto every gothic garden plant list and harking back to its Victorian inspirations. It is also one of the most popular purple varieties.

‘Peppermint Spice’

This cousin of the incredibly popular ‘Green Spice’ variety, also with green leaves and silver accents, has one advantage over its predecessor – instead of the flowers following the colours of the leaves, ‘Peppermint Spice’ displays wonderful contrast with bright pink flowers.

‘Purple Petticoats’

The odd one out on this list is ‘Purple Petticoats’, not for its deep purple leaves with touches of dark green but for the frilly, ruffled shape of the leaves (hence the ‘petticoat’). Cream flowers emerge in late spring, making its appearance even more arresting.

Planting and Care of Coral Bells

  • Heucheras grow well in garden beds but are also a great option for containers because they don’t mind being confined.
  • Plant in early spring in well-draining soil, and avoid leaving them in damp or wet soil as this can cause crown rot.
  • Each variety will have different light requirements, but coral bells are known mostly as partial-shade plants.
  • Lighter-coloured varieties typically need more shade than darker varieties, but they are not known to be difficult and can survive in many light conditions.
  • Due to their drought-tolerant nature, these plants do not need a lot of water. Water once a week in hot summer conditions and very little in winter.
  • Heucheras do not have intensive feeding requirements and will benefit from just a layer of compost in spring.
  • Container plants can be fertilised with a slow-release fertiliser, but be sure not to over fertilise.
  • Remove any flowers after blooming to promote the growth of new flowers and leaves.

Uses for Coral Bells

Coral bells are ideal as border plants, and in flower beds their interesting foliage can make a great complement to bright flowers like impatiens or begonias. They can also be used as groundcovers by planting a single variety for a more cohesive look, or a few different varieties in a bed of their own. Choose different coloured foliage with the same colour flowers or vice versa for a kaleidoscope of colours that changes with the seasons.

Contrasting textural shade plants, like ferns, pair well with heucheras to create a foliage-focused shade garden. In containers, the leaves look right at home in an autumn-themed combination, but the numerous colours can pair with almost anything as a supporting actor or the main star. Whatever you needs, this genus is one that knows how to fulfil them.

The Gardener