Heathers are a somewhat under-appreciated wildflower in Britain, given that they provide a beautiful punctuation to the sea of green that characterises the British countryside. There is a Heather flower for every season too, so we thought it was about time we prepared a list of the various types, first of all to raise awareness and popularity of the flower, but also with some instruction on how to care for them and, in an artistic sense, how best to utilise them in your garden.
They are an evergreen species, available in various sizes and colours, both of foliage and flower, but all can survive in more or less any conditions, with full hardiness against the elements, but most with a preference for acidic soils composed of either sand, loam or clay.
Floral & Hardy’s Top Ten Heathers:
Calluna vulgaris ‘Spring Torch’
‘Spring Torch’ is a compact evergreen shrub with mauve colouring to the flowers throughout summer and autumn, but also with variegated leaf tips in orange, red and purple. It has an ultimate height and spread of 0.4m and 0.5m respectively.
Erica arborea ‘Albert’s Gold’
This mid-sized shrub, like the ‘Spring Torch’, is so named for its foliage which tints with golden yellow in the springtime, gently complementing its fragrant white flowering. Expect a height and reach of 2m and 0.9m.
Erica carnea ‘Vivellii’
‘Vivellii’ is a particularly vibrant brand of heather with bright pink flowers in the winter months. Its growth is fairly diminutive with an ultimate spread of 0.35m and height of 0.5m. However, it is the foliage, rather than the size, that is this plants star quality, holding a deep green throughout the year to then be tinted bright purple with the onset of autumn.
Erica cinerea ‘Hookstone White’
This variety is also dwarf in stature and mat-forming in habit. It has mid-green foliage and white flowers, borne through summer and autumn. Max height and spread are 0.35m and 0.65m respectively.
Erica darleyensis ‘Furzey’
‘Furzey’ is a compact, dwarf shrub with rose pink flowers and pink tipped foliage in the spring time. Expect a maximum height and spread of 0.4m.
Erica erigena ‘Irish Dusk’
‘Irish Dusk’ is a mound-forming evergreen, possessed of the typical needle-like foliage and salmon-pink flowers from winter to spring. Max spread and height are 0.5 -1m and 0.1-0.5m respectively.
Erica stuartii ‘Irish Lemon’
Continuing the Irish theme (!), this low growing shrub bears bright yellow foliage and bright pink flowers in summer and autumn, with an ultimate size of 0.25m in height, and double that in spread.
Erica tetralix ‘Alba Mollis’
‘Alba Mollis’ is a distinctive shrub that possesses grey foliage on matching stems and bell-like, white flowers in the summer and autumn. Ultimate height is 0.3m and a spread of 0.5m.
Erica vagans ‘Mrs D F Maxwell’
This variety has dark green foliage and deep, rose-pink flowers through summer and autumn. Height and spread ceilings are estimated at 0.35m and 0.5m respectively.
Daboecia cantrabrica ‘Silverwells Heath’
Perhaps ‘Silverwell’s’ most endearing feature is the longevity of its flowers which it bears profusely upon its ovate, green foliage from spring to autumn in small white racemes. ‘Silverwell’ has a maximum height of 0.4m and spreading range of 0.6m.
Heathers need little maintenance, but do require a good trim over after flowering to maintain their shape, otherwise, over time, they’ll get leggy and bare at the base.
They’re well worth looking after though as they provide bold sheets of colour, often when there is little else in flower in the garden.
By Josh Ellison