The Heather Garden is a Labour Saving Garden

Heathers are suited to most gardens as labour savers, particularly as they have collectively such long flowering seasons, which planned carefully can mean year-round colour.

They need little attention and grow into neat, colourful hummocks or form a mat growth which smothers weeds. For these reasons they look well as specimens or in mass, on flat ground or sloping sites, on cliffs and rock outcrops. Suitable, in fact, for almost any type of garden. They can be set formally into geometrically shaped beds or planted in a complete heather garden, graduated according to height, season of flowering, foliage and colour.

They can be mixed with rock garden plants, put among shrubs where they are invaluable for low growing carpeting, or be grown as individual specimens. They are also most suited for island beds, highlighting perhaps a specimen tree or shrub.

Most heathers put up with a wide range of soil; though it must be acid or neutral. Those which will stand alkaline soils include Erica arborea, australis, mediterranean carnea, lustanica, multiflora, terminalis and x darlyensis.

Generally they stand moist soil but it should be well drained. Both clay and light soil should have plenty of organic matter incorporated — a little well-rotted manure, but mainly peat, leaf-mould and garden compost.

These materials should also be forked in annually in the spring. In limy soils, it is best to make a raised bed for heathers so that a wide variety can be grown, filling the bed with a mixture of the bulky organic materials and retaining it with peat blocks — which slowly decay — or with stone blocks, which are permanent.

Generally fairly close planting of young plants is best, rather than using semi-mature plants which may not get over transplanting very well — unless from containers.

Compact types can be set about seven to 12 inches apart, medium-compact varieties a foot to 18 inches apart, and tallish kinds 18 to 24 inches apart — with tall bush forms about half their height between them.

On alkaline soils, feed in the spring with sequestrols but otherwise fertilisers or plant foods are unnecessary.

Heathers depend on their freedom of flowering, the compact kinds particularly, on light pruning or clipping after flowering, so new shoots grow in abundance, though there is a division of thought between people who claim that pruning should allow varying lengths of growth to give a clumpy form, or whether clipping should shape them into neat hummocks. Summer-flowering kinds are clipped in spring.

Detailed planting schemes can be worked out but it is not necessary to give examples because by close study of catalogues you will better find those that suit your particular needs best.

Calluna is what people commonly call heather. It is a low-growing, hummock-type plant, hates lime, stands exposed positions in full sun or partial shade and comes in varying leaf and flower colours. Main flowering period is late summer. ‘Golden Feather’ has bright golden-orange foliage, ‘Robert Chapman’ has reddish foliage, and ‘Foxii Nana’ is dark green and of miniature stature.

Daboecia has small bell-shaped flowers, is again hummock forming, not very hardy so appreciates a sheltered site, hates lime, does not mind damp soil and flowers from June to October. There is a wide variety of flower and leaf colour.

Erica is the genus with the widest variety of colours; many species are of hummock kind of heather, with numerous tiny blossoms, dense in growth. E. carnea is a very comprehensive compact species, all sorts of varieties, able to stand lime, very hardy, flowering from October to April in its very many forms. E. mediterranea is a tall grown shrub, flowering in spring; and it does not mind stony ground. One of the hardiest of all heathers is E. tetralix, a compact type, hating lime, but not minding damp. It flowers from June until October. Bell heather is E. cinerea.

One of the best of the medium-compact kinds is E. x darlyensis, smothered in blossom from December until April. It is available in a variety of forms. The tallest of all is E. arborea, which in mild localities can grow to 20 feet tall. However, it does not stand hard winters, so needs a sheltered site in normal parts. It flowers in March and April and there is a golden-leaved form.

Heathers are particularly attractive in winter, with their various foliage colours and always brighten up the coldest months, peeping through the snow when in flower.

In the spring and summer they are excellent for bees and butterflies and generally can be increased by layering or short summer cuttings of green shoots.

06. September 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Labour Saving Gardens | Tags: , | Comments Off on The Heather Garden is a Labour Saving Garden

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