Tiarella (foamflowers) are fabulous perennials for planting under trees. These plants don’t mind the shade, and mine have tolerated some dryness with no problem. They thrive under the conifers in the rich, organic soil with decomposing leaves and needles. The foamflowers flower in spring, and into early summer in zone 3. Many of them have very decorative leaves, so they are still looking great in the garden as we approach fall. Some of my Tiarella are of a clumping form and don’t spread much, while others send out runners, making them perfect groundcovers. You can mouse over any of the photos to see them identified.
I have a front garden area under some pine and spruce trees that I’ve been gradually planting with perennials over the last few years. The bed weaves between the tree trunks and underneath low conifer boughs. Last summer I added a number of new Tiarella to this shady bed, since the plants added the previous year had done so well. I’ve been very pleased with the foamflower performance in this shady garden area, which includes tree root competition, as well as bombardment by falling cones and needles.
There was already a small group of Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice‘ here from two years ago, and I added many more of them last summer to expand the planting along the west side of the pine. They look wonderful when they are loaded with beautiful blooms in spring through early summer, followed by a carpet of attractive leaves for the rest of the season.
The above group of Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ is growing in my back garden, shaded to the south by a large willow tree and to the west by a fence. These perennials get about an hour of two of light in the early morning, but flower very well in this exposure. You can see how distinctive and handsome the foliage is, and how the light colour glows in the shade. Sugar and Spice spreads a bit more than Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’, but not as much as the trailing Tiarella forms.
Here’s a closeup of the leaf pattern on Sugar and Spice. The prominent dark centres of each blade are eye-catching and very appealing. In the middle of the picture, some tight pink buds were just rising back in spring.
The leaves of Sugar and Spice are very glossy, which adds some sparkle in the darker areas of the garden. Plants with shiny leaves are perfect for increasing the light reflection in the shade, to make them stand out more. The shot above wasn’t in the rain; it’s just the natural reflection.
However in springtime, it’s the flowers of Sugar and Spice that get your attention. In this grouping, the mugo pine branches are just 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 feet) over top of the Tiarella, so not many perennials would thrive in the site. These ones get masses of blooms under the pine tree.
Here is a new Tiarella I planted last year, ‘Oregon Trail’. As the name suggests, it is a trailing type and already the plants have many runners. This little group has been filling in nicely, and based on its growth from last year, it makes a terrific spreading groundcover for a very shady area. These Tiarella get the toughest site of all, underneath where some spruce and pine tree branches overlap. However the low light conditions don’t stop them from making a nice looking groundcover. You can see how fresh looking the light green leaves are even at the end of August, as they cozy up to a Hosta ‘Francee’ leaf on the right.
The leaves of Tiarella ‘Oregon Trail’ are small and neat, with narrower dark markings down the centre of the leaf lobes. The light colour works especially well in the shadows, since darker plants tend to fade into the background, while the markings gives them definition, so they are not just a mass of nondescript green.
These Oregon Trail produced flowers in the spring, despite the low light situation. I don’t think they are a naturally floriferous cultivar, but I’m happy that the plants produce any blooms at all, in the absence of light and in what could otherwise be a gloomy area. I don’t think this particular section even gets much dappled light. They have the fewest number of flowers of any of my Tiarella, along with Iron Butterfly. The foamflowers are so much more beautiful than just mulching under the conifers, although you can see that the conifers have created their own natural mulch of dropped needles and cones. Also, the squirrels create middens of dropped scales right here, as they sit in the branches above and munch their way though the cones. The squirrels have grown bolder as Autumn approaches, and one was working its way through a cone above my head, dropping scales as I worked around these Tiarella this week. The Tiarella handle the tree debris very well, and the plants make a natural carpet for the mini forest floor.
The flowers of ‘Oregon Trail’ have the typical short Tiarella flower spikes in white to very pale pink. These fluffy blooms look great under the stiff evergreen branches, and their light colour displays well in the darker recesses. I have them planted between some Hosta ‘Ginko Craig’, Hosta ‘Patriot’, and Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost ferns). The Hosta has white edges on its green leaves, while the Ghost fern has a silver cast. Both add some luminescence to the darker garden areas. When looking out my front window, the white borders of the giant Hosta leaves, silvery cast of the ferns and pales pink Tiarella blooms add a similar effect to dappled light filtering between tree branches.
Tiarella ‘Iron Butterfly’ has pretty, light coloured flowers with a feathery texture. The flowers aren’t as large as some of the other Tiarella, nor are the leaves as distinct, but they have been thriving in this very low light site located under the trees, mostly on the north side of the trunks.
This photo of Iron Butterfly shows the Tiarella flower habit of opening at the bottom first, followed by the tight buds at the top last. Since the buds are usually light to dark pink, and the open flowers are white to palest pink, the blooms can have an overall white to pink colour, depending on their stage.
The leaves of ‘Iron Butterfly’ are cut, and have less prominent centre makings than some of the other Tiarella. In spring the leaves start off all green, and then develop narrow hints of dark colour down the leaves. The picture above is a bit deceptive, as I captured one of the few times when they even get some dappled light. Those small dancing beams of sunlight are delightful to watch as they flit over the foliage. I’m sure that every extra sunbeam helps, since Iron Butterfly is filling in a little slower than Oregon Trail. Considering that they started as small plants last summer, they are doing very well with their growth, and will probably be solid by next year. I can recommend Iron Butterfly as a good groundcover for extra shady areas. To the left side is another nice woodland groundcover, Hepatica nobilis (liverwort), which gets pretty blue flowers in very early spring. You can see the more solid and thick Hepatica leaves in the shadow on the left, if you click to enlarge the photo. The bold white edges of Hosta ‘Patriot’ behind are easy to pick out.
Tiarella ‘Cascade Creeper’ is another trailing type, which makes it a useful groundcover. These plants get long runners like Oregon Trail, and would also look wonderful draped over a stone wall or decorative planter. The leaves of Cascade Creeper are highlighted by a dark snowflake design on a light green background, and they tend to be more deeply cut.
Some of the leaves of Cascade Creeper are extra deeply cut, so they make a nice contrast to the massive and solid leaves of the Hosta ‘Patriot’ next to this group of foamflower. I enjoy the shape of the leaf above, and the wide gaps between the blades show you the conditions in which they grow.
The flowers of ‘Cascade Creeper’ are not as numerous as some of the other Tiarella, but these also got a tougher location, with less light. In compensation, this Tiarella reblooms. The heaviest flowering was back in the spring, and it has some more flowers on it now from August and into September.
The shot above shows a section of Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’. You can see a mixture of newer and older leaves with varying degrees of central marking. They have fewer runners than the other creeping Tiarella that I grow. This is the third summer for them in my garden, and they are expanding more now. Jeepers Creepers don’t spread as much as the running ones, like Oregon Trail, but they spread more than the clumping Tiarella such as Sugar and Spice. Another nice Tiarella with light green leaves is ‘Neon Lights’.
The leaves of Jeepers Creepers are a little lighter green than the other Tiarella, making a nice edging to show off the central maroon markings. That lighter colour makes the Jeepers Creepers group show up well under the dark green spruce boughs, while the dark pattern highlights the fancy leaf shape.
Here is a white flower spike of Jeepers Creepers that has fully opened, looking extra fluffy against the needle mulch. You can see more pictures of Jeepers Creepers, other Tiarella, and Heuchera in this previous article.
Here the very pale pink Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony’ are blooming in front of the dark pink Heucherella’ Dayglow Pink‘ (foamy bells, which is a cross between Heuchera and Tiarella). I really like this combination of flowers in the spring. The deep pink of ‘Dayglow Pink’ make a nice background to show off the delicate looking Spring Symphony flowers. Day Glow Pink has the more typical Heuchera flower shape from its parentage, but they are much showier than many of the Heuchera with insignificant flowers. Despite the name, they look quite natural, and coordinate beautifully with the fluffy Spring Symphony.
The flowers on Spring Symphony are the third most numerous of all of my Tiarella. There are lots of tulips and Muscari (grape hyacinths) planted here, and Tiarella Spring Symphony coordinates wonderfully with the bulbs in spring. I can highly recommend these perennials for planting with pink and blue spring bulbs for a fresh spring combination. My spring symphony are planted under a pine in my backyard, and at the edge of a maple. The pine branches are trimmed up, so these get more light than the Tiarella in my front yard. The Spring Symphony plants get a bit of direct light, as well as dappled light.
Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ has the most spectacular blooms of all of my foamflowers, as you can see in the picture above. Each plant produces many flower stems, while the pink buds on top really stand out. The blooms are slightly taller than my other Tiarella. The Pink Skyrocket plants are more compact and less spreading than the trailing Tiarella. So if you really don’t want a foamflower with runners or a creeping habit, this is a good choice.
This shot shows the tight pink buds at the top of each Pink Skyrocket flower stalk, with the fluffy, open white flowers working their way up from the bottom. The flowers have a cone shape at first, and then a fluffy bottle brush shape when they are fully open. They put on an excellent floral display, even in the shade. There are more pictures of Pink Skyrocket in this previous article.
‘Oregon Trail’, ‘Iron Butterfly’, ‘Cascade Creeper’, ‘Jeepers Creepers’, ’Pink Skyrocket’, ‘Spring Symphony’ and ‘Sugar and Spice’ were all bred by Terra Nova Nurseries.
All of these Tiarella survived a zone 3 winter of –35 C (-31 F) just fine. Their flowers may look delicate, but the plants are very hardy, and flourish in my northern garden. I’ve had a few Heucherella (foamy bells) die off over the winter, but none of my Tiarella have so far. I can highly recommend foamflowers as beautiful garden flowers and as useful foliage groundcovers. They rate at the top for making a fabulous groundcover in the more shady areas, along with Asarum (wild ginger) and Heuchera (coral bells). They can look great coordinating with more traditional perennials, or around a birdbath, but they also integrate nicely into a a more informal, natural bed under conifers. They are particularly impressive as larger groups, making a woodland carpet of showy foliage or starry blooms.
You might be looking at the photos picking out which ones you prefer, or you might be thinking, “Aren’t they all the same? Which one do you like best, Northern Shade?”, so here’s the short version of the article. :) If I had to pick one for showiest flowers, it would be Pink Skyrocket. The runnerup for best blooms, and winner of best foliage would be Sugar and Spice. If you want some high gloss leaves, then Sugar and Spice is a good choice. If you are looking for a plant primarily as a groundcover for very shady areas, then Oregon Trail, or Cascade Creeper will spread and fill in nicely. I was very enamored of the way Spring Symphony combined beautifully with some mid spring bulbs. If you are looking for a Tiarella with very light leaves to pop against a dark background, then Jeepers Creepers is great. In warmer zones, where you can overwinter perennials in pots, then the Trail series, like Oregon Trail, would look fabulous cascading over the side of a pot. For a Tiarella that will do some reblooming, Cascade Creeper is a good choice. You’d probably be happy to start with any one of the Tiarella, but once you see how beautiful it looks in your shade garden, you might find yourself starting a collection.