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Revisiting the Classics

Revisiting the Classics

By Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Allan Armitage, the renowned horticulturist, once commented how people rarely revisit a plant catalog and identify what is old or “classic.” With all the copycat breeding going on, a landscape designer must choose between 12 different black heucheras on the market. A landscape architect must do the same, identifying a specific variety for a specific effect. A grower must look at their inventory and make sure they have certain heuchera in stock, or at least, have a substitute, perhaps lesser, variety, thus ruining (or diluting) what the original design concept proclaimed. Enter the classic-tested, proven, and importantly, available plant.

When watching Netflix’s, “The Big Flower Fight”, one can view some of the world’s top designers and florists vie for the Hollywood of Horticulture. Heuchera were literally fought over and heavily used by the show’s design groups, and which varieties did we see? Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, ‘Marmalade’ and ‘Paprika’- proof that classics endure through time and usage. Yes, Terra Nova introduces new plants, but their breeders are their own biggest critics, asking themselves, “is this plant truly different than what has been provided before?” Does it have seasonal changes; does it resist disease and grow easily? Is it hardy? Is it strong? Does it bloom neatly?

Here are a few classics that hold their own in the industry:

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Heuchera 'Marmalade'

Possessing all the shades of British jam (and more), this ruffled gem has the ability to blend with nearly every color. The stiff, ruffled leaves add a three-dimensional effect to a landscape design, and they create a color palette that changes with every season. Rich, shiny, undulating foliage ranges in color from umber to deep sienna. Attention is particularly paid to its hot pink undersides. This plant has heavy substance that stands up to inclement weather, and makes a great landscape choice, performing well in both sun and shade. It also won first place at the Royal Dutch Flower Bulb Association show in 2008.

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Heuchera 'Obsidian'

This variety is the “little black dress” in the world of heuchera. From China to “The Big Flower Fight”, if a black variety was needed, Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ filled the role. The black look of the variety does not fade, even in full sun, and its shiny, broad, rounded leaves almost appear as black satin! Its richly colored foliage showcases all other colors in the garden. Vigor and consistent performance under a variety of garden conditions make this a fool-proof choice. Compare this plant to other black varieties on the market, especially in winter, and you will see who shines. It is excellent in containers or in landscapes, and is one of Terra Nova’s top-selling heuchera.

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Heuchera 'Paprika'

Jimmy Turner, well-known in the horticulture industry for his candor, often makes statements when describing new, colorful plants, like, “I could eat this!” Heuchera ‘Paprika’ is no exception with its large, warm, and glowing cherry-coral foliage that could stop a Mack truck. This has proven to be a spicy favorite of Terra Nova’s evaluation team, and there is no other temperate plant that has this much tropical appeal and grows in U.S.D.A. Hardiness Zone 4. Used in containers, it hardly overwhelms the other pot-mates, and makes an excellent color echo for oranges, reds, and yellows. From shade to full-sun, this plant “illuminates” its space and is a natural accent to purple heuchera like ‘Forever Purple’ – a classic in the making!

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Heuchera 'Paris'

This free-flowering heuchera has white-veiled green leaves that give rise to continuous columns of large, deep rose-colored flowers. Part of the “City Series”- a collection of freely reblooming plants in a variety of foliage and flower colors– this variety is a top performer. This blooming machine produces flowers until frost with a single bloom stem lasting for two months. Excellent in containers or the shade border, Heuchera ‘Paris’ lights up the shade garden year-round. This variety even performed well as an indoor plant when trialed in Terra Nova’s office and inside various homes! Whether in a landscape or in containers, Heuchera ‘Paris’ lays the groundwork for an unceasing display of blossoms.

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Heuchera 'Southern Comfort'

This variety has huge, lush cinnamon-peach colored leaves that are adorned by creamy white flowers which erupt in late summer. Foliage color changes from cinnamon-peach to burnished copper and amber. This is quite the tropical accent for a garden, thriving in partial shade to full sun in the Pacific Northwest. Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ was Terra Nova’s first hit using heuchera villosa as a parent, which yielded voluptuous foliage with individual leaves up to 11 inches across. Bred to perform well in Southern humidity, the Midwest, the Northeast, or in the Northwest, Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ is versatile across the United States! This variety is best used in large containers with dark accent plants, or in a landscape setting to brighten up a dull area.

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Dan Heims is a published author of two books and lectures around the world.In 2003 he won the Reginald Cory Memorial Cup by the Royal Horticultural Society. He has also been awarded the Award of Merit by the Perennial Plant Association in 2019, and the Luther Burbank Award by the American Horticultural Society in 2020.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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