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Vermont Garden Journal: Coral Bells

04/27/12 5:55PM
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I'm Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal.  And now the winner of Perennial Flower of the Year is: Heuchera or coral bells. Yes, coral bells are the National Garden Bureau's perennial flower of the year and I can't think of a better choice. This all-American native has species that grow from San Diego to Maine. The plant was named after 18th century German physician, Johann Heinrich von Heucher, whose name is actually pronounced Hoy-ker-uh in his native land.

Coral bells have gone through a revolution in the last 20 years. Most of the breeding involves selecting new varieties for their leaf color and size. Although they have dainty pink, red, or white flowers, it's the foliage that shines. Coral bell varieties have leaves ranging from 1/2 inch to 12 inches in diameter. There are varieties with purple, amber, gold, lime-green, silver, red, and peach colored leaves just to name a few. The silver patches on many varieties is due to air spaces between the leaf layers which is thought to increase the amount of light the leaves can absorb. Some of my favorite varieties include 'Plum Pudding', 'Amber Waves', and 'Lime Rickey'.

Not only are these evergreen perennials hardy and easy to care for, the roots have been used medicinally by Native Americans and the leaves are edible adding a slightly sour taste to salads and sandwiches.

Plant coral bells in part shade, protected from the hot afternoon sun, on well-drained, fertile soil. Plant in groups to create a more dramatic effect. Place the plants in the perennial flower border, in containers or use the leaves in flower arrangements. The leaves can last for months as a cut flower indoors in water and will root overtime.

Now for this week's tip, protect tender seedings on chilly nights with a floating row cover. This cheese-cloth like material lets air, water and light in, but can protect plants to temperatures into the 20Fs.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about globe artichokes. For now, I'll be seeing you in the garden!


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