After the trees, shrubs and perennials are installed in a landscape, groundcovers generally represent the final step. Looking for something a little different? Try foamy bells, the common name for plants in the genus Heucherella. This perennial groundcover, a member of the saxifrage family, is a genetic cross between coral bells (Heuchera) and foamflower (Tiarella).
Foamy bells combine coral bells' beautiful foliage color with the lovely flower stalks of foamflowers. They bloom in late spring/early summer and generally have a compact, clump-forming habit. Depending on the cultivar, the foliage grows 6 to 12 inches high and 12 to 24 inches wide with flower stalks 6 to 12 inches high. The flower coloration is white, cream or pink. Heucherellas prefer light shade and an organically rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Foamy bells look spectacular when planted in splashes or drifts and make a great companion with ajugas, carexes, hostas, ferns, hellebores, bleeding hearts, astilbes, lungworts and other shade perennials.
Here are a few of the common cultivars:
'Berry Fizz': forms a wide clump of maple-shaped leaves that are deep purple with a glossy bronze sheen and splattered with pink fizz. Sprays of light pink bell flowers appear in late spring and occasionally throughout the summer.
'Birthday Cake': a dark chocolate mound of dissected foliage topped with cream-colored 12-inch flower stalks. It makes a stunning combination when planted with gold-leaved hostas or Japanese forest grass.
'Crimson Clouds': Spikes of light pink flowers rise from a compact mound of light green foliage with silver veining. A spectacular show when planted en masse.
'Day Glow Pink': Sprays of brilliant fluorescent pink flowers rise above the maple-like leaves in late spring. The foliage coloration is a beautiful mint-green with dark chocolate veins.
'Golden Zebra': a real standout in the garden with striking, deeply cut yellow leaves marked with a beautiful dark red coloration. The feathery, boldly colored leaves add texture and drama to a woodland area.
'Kimono': The narrow, deeply dissected foliage is a mix of silvers, purples and greens, topped with blooms of creamy-white flowers.
'Redstone Falls': an exciting new form with a trailing habit for creeping over rocks or spilling over the edge of a wall. Coppery-red foliage with deep burgundy veins transforms to a mix of reds, oranges and browns in the fall.
'Solar Eclipse': reddish-brown foliage with rounded lobes that are gently scalloped along the edges with a shocking, lime-green border. This is a vigorous grower that forms a dense mound.
'Stoplight': bright yellow leaves that are beautifully accented with red markings in the center and radiating out along the veins. In late spring, it's topped with numerous 16-inch white flower spikes.
'Sunrise Falls': another trailing heucherella with large yellow maple-shaped leaves with red veins. In fall, the leaves acquire dramatic red tints.
'Sunspot': electric-yellow foliage with wine-red patches in the center and flamingo pink flowers in late spring. As the season progresses, the foliage coloration softens to a pleasant buff.
'Sweet Tea': one of the most brilliantly colored cultivars with scalloped 4-inch leaves that have cinnamon-russet centers and orange-rose edges. The foliage beautifully complements surrounding garden colors.
'Tapestry': plum-red leaves with wide green margins that have a blue tint in spring and summer, changing to a brighter green in fall. Warm pink flowers form above the multicolored and veiled foliage.
Steve Piskor is a Penn State master gardener and Pennsylvania certified horticulturist. Columns by master gardeners will sometimes appear in place of the Garden Q&A by Sandy Feather, a Penn State Extension educator.