Tiarella, or foamflower, does double duty in the shade garden

Foamflower is a perennial plant that comes in two forms, clumping and creeping. Both Tiarellas are favorites with gardeners who have shade.

Courtesy of Gene Bush
The creeping types of Tiarella or foamflower, such as Running Tapestry, shown, spread to cover woodland gardens without crowding out other plants.

Gardeners will want to know that foamflowers fall into two divisions. There is a species, with its forms and cultivars, which all form tight clumps over time. Most of these will have some Tiarella wherryi in their parentage. Tiarella cordifolia, which has both rhizomatus stems and is stoloniferous, creates ground covers.

Each -- creeping ground cover or clumping -- has its place in the garden. As I learn how best to use foamflowers in my garden, ground-covering forms have become my favorites. I find it easy to use ground covers with companion plants. In fact, foamflower is so versatile that it's difficult to choose a less than ideal companion plants for them.

For example, while flowing outward, they offer no competition for other plants to grow up through. I enjoy being able to use the same space in my garden more than once, providing several seasons of interest in the same location.

Ground-covering plants are more than just another pretty face for the gardener. They also serve to hold down weeds by occupying space so seeds cannot germinate. While covering an area, foliage provides constant shade to keep the roots of other plants cooler and more moist. 

Try Running Tapestry foamflower

Of all the foamflower cultivars that have come and gone over the years, my favorite is T. cordifolia ‘Running Tapestry’. [See photo, above.] Mature leaves are about 4 inches across and 4-1/2 to 5 inches long, softly hairy, with gracefully scalloped edges. The veins are heavily marked as though ink-stained in brown-black with concentrated patterns or blotches of color in the center of each leaf. In winter the foliage takes on additional colors of pink, tan, and maroon-red over the dark, rich, green. 

Running Tapestry is one of the heaviest bloomers of all foamflowers grown here at my garden in southern Indiana. Almost every one of the plants that have matured on runners will have clumps of bloom stems with white frothy flowers on display. 

In spring and summer, the plant sends out thin, green runners that reach two to three feet in length. These will have leaves about the size of a quarter along their length. At each leaf node, the runner will take root and form another plant that will mature and send out its own runners.

Woodland landscaping with foamflowers

Three years ago I transplanted three plants to my raised bed. Those three plants have grown nicely to cover an area about six feet by seven feet. The raised bed, which has old rotted pines and cedars as side supports, is about 12 feet by 12 feet. There is a path around all four sides of the bed, with largest plants in the middle, stepping down in size to the edges of the bed. There are two native azaleas, hellebore garden hybrids (Lenten roses), ferns, Trilliums, and Disporum (fairy bells).

I am especially pleased with the way Running Tapestry has woven a carpet around hellebores and ferns. Trilliums poke their noses up through the weave, adding vertical accent. New runners are drifting over the edge of the rotted logs like a tattered rug, creating a wonderfully soft, natural appearance to the edges of the bed.

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Gene Bush, a nationally known garden writer, photographer, lecturer, and nursery owner, gardens on a shaded hillside in southern Indiana. His website is www.munchkinnursery.com. He also writes the Garden Clippin's Newsletter. To read more by Gene here at Diggin' It, click here.

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