Tiarella ‘Neon Lights’ (foamflower) are wonderful, low maintenance plants for a shady garden site. These hardy perennials have lovely, light green leaves, which show up very well in the darker shadows under the conifers. I have been thinking of planting some ‘Neon Lights’ for a while, and got lucky when these were on sale at the end of the season. I picked up a number of them to accompany some other Tiarella under the trees.
‘Neon Lights’ have very bright chartreuse foliage with contrasting dark markings in the centres of the leaf lobes. The leaves remind me of Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’, which has a similar light colouring with markings. However, the ‘Jeepers Creepers’ plants have a spreading form, while ‘Neon Lights’ is a mounding Tiarella.
The ‘Neon Lights’ leaves have a fair degree of gloss to them, too, which also helps them show up well in the shade. Just look at the plant above glowing with no water droplets or flash, while in the shade under a tree.
This closeup of the palmate leaves shows the wonderfully contrasting black markings that emphasize their fancy shape. The intricately carved maple-like outline is very appealing.
Look how bright and flashy the ‘Neon Lights’ foliage looks here. I’m very partial to leaves that have contrasting colouring following the vein patterns, rather than random splotches. Perennials like Brunnera, Heuchera and Tiarella have especially great looking foliage because their secondary colours make beautiful patterns following the leaf veins. Other plants with randomly variegated leaves can look diseased, but the symmetrical markings along the veins of Tiarella look like miniature works of art. The perennials above really pop against the neutral pine needle mulch, yet they still look natural.
Here is a small flower of ‘Neon Lights’, having the the typical white fluffy look of foamflowers. This one is tiny, since it is blooming in its pot. That adjacent picture on the label show the larger, full flowers that they will get under ideal conditions. In the darker shade of this site, I expect mine to get a flower size somewhere in between, but closer to the label size than the small pot bloom. Tiarella ‘Neon Lights’ reblooms in late summer and fall, just like Tiarella ‘Cascade Creeper’. I am planting the new ‘Neon Lights’ group next to the ‘Cascade Creeper’ section, so that they will make a nice flower patch when the foamflowers rebloom together later in the season.
My newly planted ‘Neon Lights’ are about 23 cm wide (9 in) and 10 cm tall (4 in). When mature this perennial should be about 55 cm (22 in) wide by 20 cm (8 in) tall. Tiarella make a first-class shady groundcover as the multitude of wide leaves spread out. They look so much better than rock or bark chip mulch under the trees.
Here you can see how bare this section looked before, just covered in the fallen pine needles. A huge advantage of gardening under conifers, is that there are very few weeds. I did a little weeding here at the beginning of August, but there really are very few interlopers. With no grass that needs to be removed, it is actually very easy to plant here. The soil under these conifers is terrific, very soft and easy to dig because it is made mainly from years of decomposing needles and cones. On the other hand, I have to watch out for tree roots while digging, which I try not to disturb too much. The final positions tend to be a compromise between where I want to place them, and where the tree wants to place its roots. I plant them in the soft pockets in between the roots. I’ve been planting this shady garden bed one section at at time over the last 4 years, as I don’t want to disturb the trees too much by digging all around them at once.
Working under the trees means I have to watch out for the very low branches, too. You can just see some pine needles at the top of this photo. Any gardening in this bed involves ducking, as the branches are between 30 cm (1 ft ) to 130 cm (4 ft ) from the ground, but generally flexible. I usually come inside with the twinned needles pinned to my hair like bobby pins, even if I wear a cap. Still, its very pleasant to work under the scented pine boughs in the soft soil. There are usually chickadees and squirrels busy in the branches, undisturbed by my working below. It’s just a suburban front yard, but it feels like a woodland under the trees.
I arranged the foamflowers in their pots before planting to see how they would fill the space, resisting the urge to squeeze them altogether for an instant carpet, although it was tempting. My other Tiarella have had a decent growth rate, so back the pots went to their proper spacing distance before digging the holes.
The plants almost fit perfectly between the Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ to the south (top right), and the Tiarella ‘Cascade Creeper’ to the north (top left). There were a few gaps at the edges, so later I went back to the garden centre to get the last 6, now there are 17 ‘Neon Lights’ plants. I was surprised there were so many left at the end of the season. Why hadn’t gardeners snapped up these pretty plants? Some perennials don’t look so great in their pots, especially when they are not in flower, but with the fabulous foliage, these look good before they’re even planted. You can see the garden setting in the picture above, with some of the multi-stemmed pine trunks visible at the top. The other darker green Tiarella are at the edges of the shot. You can see more Tiarella and Heuchera I’ve planted under conifers.
The photo above shows how zippy the little perennials look in the shade. I can’t wait to see how the garden looks when the T. ‘Neon Lights’ fill in next summer. They should touch at the edges. It will make a beautiful sweep of Tiarella under the west side of the pine, with a tapestry of colours blending from one group of cultivar to the next.
Here is a picture showing the difference in leaf colouring between Tiarella ‘Neon Lights’ on the left and Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ on the right. Sugar and Spice have an almost black colouring down the middle of the leaf lobes, with a darker green colour now that its September. In spring, the ‘Sugar and Spice’ leaves were lighter, but not as light as ‘Neon Lights’.
All of my other Tiarella have proven to be very hardy under the trees, so I expect the ‘Neon Lights’ to thrive in the shade here as well. They are tough little survivors. These perennials look so sweet when their flowers bloom in fluffy cylinders. Then, the Tiarella leaves stay fresh and beautiful for the whole season, to carpet your shady garden floor in wonderful patterns.