Four authors working on two books on heucheras at the same time when none had ever been published before? Just shows how popular heucheras have become. And we’re fortunate to have two such good – and very different – books on these invaluable plants.
Heucheras and Heucherella by Dan Heims and Graham Ware, was the first out. Dan Heims has bred and introduced more heuchera and heucherella cultivars than anyone else and his good humored proselytizing on their behalf has been highly influential in their rise in popularity.
Their very readable book looks briefly at heucheras in the wild, discusses the many breeders who’ve worked on the plants over the years, adds plenty of useful cultural advice and discusses good uses for the plants in the garden. The meat of the book is a descriptive alphabetical list of cultivars, old and new. The descriptions vary in length and detail, but are very accessible with awards mentioned along with the raiser and year of introduction.
But there are two odd things about this book. Firstly, all sixty-four pages of pictures are grouped at the very front of the book, immediately after the contents page. While seeing the pictures together emphasises the vast variety of foliage colors and patterns, and flower colors, available and while their quality is generally excellent, it’s nevertheless rather peculiar. And secondly, the book covers Heuchera and xHeucherella but not Tiarella (heucherellas are hybrids between heucheras and tiarellas).
Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella by Charles and Martha Oliver, the other leading breeders of these plants in recent years, covers a wider range, as the title suggests; tiarellas are discussed along with the related Mitella and Tellima. The approach here is first to discuss the plants grouped according to their garden use, briefly mentioning a wide range, then later to describe in more detail a selected few for different garden situations.
The descriptions include valuable measurements of the width and height of mature clumps of foliage as well as the height of the spike and of the size individual leaves. Special qualities including hardiness and sun-tolerance are mentioned for each along with a note on availability. There’s a fascinating discussion following the history of breeding, chapters on propagation, breeding and culture, and many interesting ideas for ways of using the plants in the garden.
The pictures, set alongside the discussion of the plants in the text, are rather mixed in quality. Some are superb, and a few are given a full page in the book which is larger in format than the Heims/Ware book. Some are less satisfactory, the line drawings of leaves and planting schemes are not good.
Each of these two books, of course, tends to favour the plants raised by its author! Both are good, but flawed. More plants are described in the Heims/Ware book, the color photography is generally better though the format of the book and the pictures themselves are smaller. It’s hard to forgive the omission of Tiarella while the treatment of species can be sketchy. The index covers only plants.
The Olivers’ book, with its larger format and larger though occasionally disappointing pictures, features more detailed and more useful descriptions though fewer of them, and the grouping is unhelpful; better to describe the plants alphabetically, then give lists of plants for different uses. The index is more comprehensive.
So… which is best? Ideally, you need both! But if you need as many descriptions as possible, go for Heims/Ware. If you’re interested in tiarellas, go for the Olivers’.
Click here to buy Heucheras and Heucherella by Dan Heims and Grahame Ware in the UK
Click here to buy Heucheras and Heucherella by Dan Heims and Grahame Ware in North America and elsewhere
Click here to buy Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella – A Gardener’s Guide by Charles and Martha Oliver in the UK
Click here to buy Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella – A Gardener’s Guide by Charles and Martha Oliver in North America and elsewhere
As I write this, amazon.com (not amazon.co.uk) is offering both for a total of $40.17 - looks like a bargain but it may disappear!
[Declaration of interest: I helped hook up the Olivers with their publisher.]