If I had to name one “go-to” plant for woodland landscapes, foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) would certainly be one among the top contenders. As a groundcover, a border plant, an accent or a rock garden stalwart, foamflower rewards gardeners with a reliably charming spring display of flowers and oh-so-easy propagation.

Tiarella cordifolia clump

A new clump of Tiarella cordifolia launches racemes of delicate flowers in late May

Photo Credit: ©2007 Pennystone Gardens

Tiarella flower details

Up close, it’s easy to see how the plant earned its name “foamflower.”

Photo Credit: ©2007 Pennystone Gardens

Tiarella & rocks

These pink-flowered foamflowers tumble out over stone as they send out runners, looking for new spots to root.

Photo Credit: ©2007 Pennystone Gardens

In all my years as a native-plant gardener, I’ve only purchased three foamflower plants. Those three quickly became 60 (which I moved to a new bed in the middle of drought). I’d guesstimate that now I’ve got more than 300 of these beauties in a bed I keep for a standing supply. (I’m planning to harvest a hundred or so at a time to use around my garden and along borders for a wonderful springtime show.)

As long as you’ve got shade, this tough plant manages to do well in almost any soil. It even handles deep shade! No wonder you can grow foamflower all over the East Coast and the Upper Midwest. (Tiarella cordifolia’s cousin, Wherry’s foamflower – Tiarella cordifolia var. collina – is more common in the Southeast.)

While the plant handles all kinds of conditions, foamflower truly flourishes in its ideal site: light, well-drained (but damp) soil, rich in surface humus, with an acidity range of pH 5-7. You can also treat the plant to some shredded leaf mulch – especially oak leaves, whole birch, maple or other small leaves – in early spring and late fall. Old straw or weathered marsh hay work well, too. Because the plant adapts to almost any shade condition, it’ll thrive in just about any shady spot you’ve got – except directly under dense evergreens.

You should normally plant your foamflowers 1-2 feet apart, depending on the effect you want to create. A lot like strawberries, they’ll slowly and methodically fill in your blank spaces by sending runners out in all directions. If there’s plenty of surrounding ground to occupy, you’ll get a dense patch with a beautiful “foamy” display of late spring flowers that rise up above the foliage on racemes that reach 10-12 inches tall. (For a truly stunning sight, give your foamflowers lots of space to create great drifts of blooms come May.)

While Tiarella cordifolia is great for woodland gardens, as well as for shady borders and as a groundcover, one really neat way to use it is in a rock garden. Simply tuck the plant into pockets of river stones on a slope or in stone walls built from irregular native rocks. Sure, its runners have to work a bit harder to snake through the rubble and find places to root, but foamflower looks great in this setting! And the stones actually act a bit like mulch, keeping the roots cool, moist and safe from burrowing mammals (although I’ve never seen foamflower fall victim to voles). Such displays can be quite imaginative and very attractive.

What’s more, foamflower is nearly evergreen. When the weather cools, the leaves turn purplish or maroon and then droop in winter’s chill. As the winter season takes on full steam, you’ll get the impression that you’ve killed your poor plant. It’ll hobble drearily through early spring (which is okay since there are all kinds of other ephemerals eager to attract your attention). But fear not – as the weather turns warmer, foamflower miraculously recovers, fluffing out in a cheery green and launching its delightful sprays of flowers.

So if your woodland garden is crying out for colorful patches of springtime cheer, pick up some foamflower. It won’t be long before your tiny plants transform themselves into beautiful drifts of foamy blooms!