Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Day 9 — Foamflower

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‘Sugar and Spice’ foamflower boasts interesting flowers and foliage. (Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries)

Foamflower (Tiarella) makes a great addition to any shady garden. In the right place, this native of the forest floor will carpet an area with intriguing foliage and provide pretty white blooms in spring. If you don’t want a trailing plant, foamflower also comes in clumping varieties, which are more inclined to stay put in the garden.

Hardy to USDA Zone 4, foamflower offers three seasons of interest in any shade to part shade garden. In spring, it puts up fuzzy, bottle-brush shaped flowers in white to pink. After the flowers fade, the foliage, which is often less than a foot tall, covers the garden with a living mulch that shades out weeds. In fall, the leaves turn a bright red.

Heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is a Minnesota native, growing wild in the moist soil of forests and stream banks. Trailing foamflower spreads by sending out rhizomes, so in an area that is conducive to growth, it can spread over a larger space relatively quickly.

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Foliage colors and shapes is one of the best reasons to add ‘Mystic Mist’ foamflower to your northern garden. (Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries)

The pretty leaf forms of Tiarella have made it the subject of some breeding efforts to create unusual, garden-worthy varieties. For instance, Terra Nova Nurseries have developed the variegated ‘Mystic Mist’ tiarella, which offers bright green, mottled leaves and deep red veins. The foliage goes pink in the fall. Another popular variety is ‘Sugar and Spice’, which has lacy leaves with dark centers and more pinkish blooms.

Tiarellas grow best in soil rich in organic matter that is not too moist. They tolerate drought reasonably well. However, avoid exposing them to harsh winter winds. Foamflowers are native to the forest, so they appreciate some protection. With spring flowers and unusual leaves, foamflowers are one of the great plants for northern gardens.