Friday, 29 July 2011


Well hullo!
I'd like to apologise, most humbly,  to the following:

To Arabella Sock - because I was rude about her Heuchera which she grew in a miniature gabion.

To Plantagogo and Heucheraholics because they grow and market a huge range of the genus Heuchera   Their plant quality, as seen at the best of Britain's flower shows, is tip top and their service is, I'm sure excellent.

And to heucheraphiles everywhere - apologies to you too.

 Solenostemon, unnamed seedling.  A bit too close for comfort, to a heuchera hue.  But I still love it.


Now please don't misunderstand me, I still hate heucheras.  Although I'd defend to the death, the right of anyone to grow the things, if so minded.  They make excellent vine weevil food, anyway, and I'm informed by my friends at Buglife that insects need all the help they can get just now.

My main gripe, with modern heucheras are the leaf colours – the caramel ones, the pallid yellow ones, the ones with foliage that looks like pewter,  and the ones whose leaves are the hue of Christmas puddings and those ones with flat-hued, beetrooty lugubriosities for leaves.  And it also bothers me that the flowers look, somehow, as though they belong to a completely different type of plant.

BUT . . .But, but – I've good reason, now, to repent of my bellicose remarks concerning heucheras and it all happened like this.

Aeons ago, when my father was still youthful, he used succumb to the most passionate crazes about particular plant groups.  One year,  he propagated enough Asiatic primulas to re-stock all the wetlands in Kashmir.

In another, he discovered the wholesale seedsmen and bought seed for enough bedding to furnish Harrogate, Bath and Aberdeen - all past finalists in Britain in Bloom, since you ask.

These crazes for bulk growing began when I was about 13.  He couldn't make his mind up, one year,  which variety of coleus to grow.  In the end, he bought a packet seed of every variety from every seedsman he could find.  And for a string of summers, every windowsill in the the house, every inch of bedding space outside and an entire greenhouse was devoted to amazing displays of what where then Coleus and are now Solenostemon.

My mother loathed them and said they were 'common' and I have to admit, their colours are a bit naff.   But of course, that spurred him on to growing more.  Luckily, he managed to kill most of them off, each winter, with botrytis.

Not so sure about this Solenostemon.  It really is naff, isn't it?

But that spurred him to propagate more feverishly than ever each spring.  When we went on holiday to France, one year, he noted with scorn, that the French allow their flame nettles to flower, whereas he meticulously disbudded his.  And while, looking scornfully at the aforementioned flowering solenostemons, he would, with swift sleight of hand, swipe a bevy of cuttings.  In one hotel where he knew the owner, a Monsieur who resembled Wilfred Hyde White, he even absent-mindedly de-flowered - if that's the right term - a couple of plants, much to the displeasure of the proprietor's daughter.

Solenostemons went right out of fashion for a while.  I never realised how much I missed them, until I spotted a couple of nice varieties for sale at our local general nursery.

I added them to my basket, and a day or two later, spotted another batch going really cheap at Bourne Market.  I've rooted cuttings from every one of them, of course, so now I have a pleasing, burgeoning collection of Coleus, Solenostemon or, if you prefer, flame nettles.

Solenostemon, an unnamed seedling.  Fiery reds, fascinating leaf textures and so easy to grow.

Now here's the apology bit.  I was admiring my latest acquisition - a Solenostemon variety called 'China Rose.'  It was collected by Ray Waite, ex Curator of Glass at Wisley, and generously handed to me, in the form of three cuttings, by his successor, Nick Morgan.

I rooted all three in precisely 7 days and now have healthy young plants - though still too tatty to show you pictures.  When they're photographable, you'll be well impressed!

Anyway, as I admired my growing collection a spine-chilling realisation dawned on me.  'Some of these,' I told myself, 'are exactly the same colour as those nasty heucheras you hate.'

Oh my goodness, what a ludicrous thing!

Taste, you see, is utterly subjective and completely illogical. It enables me to adore plants that my mother calls 'common' and permits certain exalted persons to sneer at jazzy polyanthus or Schizanthus at flower shows while raving over azaleas in identical colours on their ducal estates.

I don't like heucheras but I love Solenostemon.  Where's the sense in that?

One of the cheapie flame nettles, from Bourne Market - I love the deep lobes and distorted leaves.

I'm listening to Benjamin Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb - words by Christopher Smart who was mad as a hatter.

This day in 1983 I had just returned from a West Country visit.  Three people came to our garden, that evening, according to my diary, and went away cross because we didn't sell house plants. They were not interested in any of our hardy nursery stock.

This week's viewing - well, and for some time past - has been the 1984 ITV adaptation of Paul Scott's wonderful Raj Quartet, Jewel in the Crown, in which a dastardly Tim Pigott-Smith, boozy Judy Parfitt, cowed Peggy Ashcroft, delectably sensible Geraldine James and dishy Charles Dance take us through the death throes of the British Raj and birth pangs of the new India.

Bye bye, and enjoy your heucheras.


  1. I suspect you are like me and the more you see of something the more you dislike it. Just as with the over hyped films I avoid the more I see everyone having a certain plant the less I want it. We are both un-sheeplike

  2. This post has all the classic signs of having been written by a dry heucheraholic.

    Thanks! I enjoyed it, in a scary way.

    Jane Powers (who, as a child, was exposed to some serious coleus-addictive behaviour in her neighbourhood, and now just wants a safe place away from them — and oddly-coloured heucheras)

  3. I loathe the colour pink - yet I love my Geraniums (perennial of course!) (Thankfully they're not all pink!!)

    Life is funny like that

  4. Christopher Lloyd found heucheras difficult to place in the garden. They are not good mixers. Who would argue with the great man? He must be spinning in his grave with all the garish new varieties available

  5. My father, too, loved Coleus and grew hundreds over the years. He loved them because of their surprise factor, you never know quite what colours and patterns you will end up with. They left me a bit cold then, but now I, a confirmed heucheraholic, (apart from the miserable brownish-yellow ones that look as if they are dying), cannot resist buying any of the ruby red Coleus that I find.

    Maybe it comes with age. Not, of course, that we are at all aged!

  6. Well I am delighted because I can't stand heucheras and find myself offending people all over the place. At least I am not alone. Mind you I am not too keen on coleus either....

  7. Great post - it all rings true and haven't we all made similar mistakes. "Bulk" growing in this gardeners case involved auriculas. We had hundreds of them (another good source of food for vine weevil by the way). Suffice to say I find it hard to look auriculas in their ever so pretty over painted faces anymore.

    p.s. I also detest heucheras
    p.p.s A quick count shows we have 5 different varieties dotted around the garden; signs that memsahib has been guerilla gardening again.

  8. Given a choice, I'd go for heucheras because they are less formal. Bergenias - I thoroughly dislike bergenias.

  9. I have grown the occasional coleus - the brighter bronzey coloured ones - but the pictures you have shown are of the most hideous varieties! I agree your top picture is a bit too close to the worst kind of heuchera for comfort. I did once see a lovely collection of coleus in the new glasshouse at Wisley and I could see the appeal of a few of the varieties shown.

    Somehow I feel that you and others have missed the point of heucheras. My 'Peach Flambés' have looked perfectly fab for months, I cut back all the flowering stems and removed any bleached out leaves and am left with a lovely mix of healthy peachy shaded leaves. My large-leaved 'mocha' looks like a taffeta ball gown the colour of a slightly bronzey burgundy. A silken, shiny, conker brown one sits next to a glowing 'lime ricky' which brightens a darker part of the border in the drear of winter. The Bedsock (who also reckons himself to be unkeen on heucheras) was last evening admiring a new silvery green leafed one with bright lipstick red flowers.

    By contrast the best thing to be said about coleus is they are annuals so you don't have to cope with the sight of them for too long!

  10. No, Nigel.
    No, No
    Nien, Yelem, Non, Voch, Niet, Iyat,Nix, Nie, Ne, Hayir, Oya, Tsaa, etc etc
    No, No
    No, No, No,No,No

  11. Thanks for all your lovely comments.
    The warm and positive reaction from James A-S has fortified my desire for more Solenosetemon varieties. Also, I might even build up my collection of the closely related Plectranthus – the 'thinking person's coleus'.

    Arabella, sorry to disappoint you, but Solenostemon are gloriously perennial, so as long as I don't kill mine with botrytis. If I keep them frost-free, they'll go on for years.

    And for what it's worth, I shall continue to wear socks with my sandals, and wear them with pride. My 'mankles' and toesies are not things to be bandied about in public and I also think that men who persist in wearing sockless loafers, with long trousers, look just plain stupid. So there! They may be fine for the Kings Road but won't do in rural Lincolnshire where it's too dam' cold, anyway.

  12. Seems like there is a big love/hate element out there regarding Heucheras. I don't like the green ones but the dark red ones such as Fire Chief are great for contrast planting.

  13. I'm sorry to say that all of those Solenostemons are irredeemably hideous. And a tender perennial is an oxymoron in the UK. It's a houseplant. I will defend your right to grow them, but they look virus-stricken to me.

    Most Heucheras are also vile, though I have taken found myself admiring 'Venus' and 'Silver Scrolls'. Tiarellas, on the other hand, are models of restrained beauty and I love almost all of them, unreservedly.

  14. Sue - 'tender' in this context means not hardy outdoors in the UK. 'Perennial is merely a botanical term for a plant which lives for years rather than dying after setting seed. So 'tender perennial' is a perfectly legit definition.

    Tiarellas - yes, they're lovely. I have those in my woodland garden where, of course, solenostemons would be profoundly unwelcome.

  15. Nigel - I do understand the definitions and was not being botanically serious, you understand. I maintain that in the UK, the correct term for a tender perennial is a houseplant!

  16. Oh, I love a bit of debate! I have heucheras but only certain ones. I don't like some of the new colours so we don't have them in the garden. Wouldn't give house (or garden) room to solenostemons of any colour.....

  17. When I started my last job, many years ago,at a large private Nursing Home (I was the secretary), my employer had grown standard coleus (as they were then called) and they were dotted about all over the home. They looked magnificent.