Heathers have long been our go-to plant for winter colour, flowering when most other plants quit, appreciating our acidic soil, and graciously holding onto their leaves in the process.
What many gardeners don’t know is that there are so many kinds of heather out there that if planted with a bit of forethought, one could have heathers blooming all year long. Add gorgeous gold, blue, orange and chocolate leaves to the mix and the result is spectacular.
When people mention heather, they are almost always talking about two different genera of plants: heaths and heathers. Although both belong to the Ericaceae family, they are botanically different and are divided into the Calluna genus and the Erica genus. For practical purposes, however, they are nearly identical, sharing colour, form, and growth habits.
We had enjoyed a close relationship with heather for many centuries before they became garden staples. They supplied forage and bedding for goats, cattle and sheep, a sleeping place for lonely shepherds on the moorlands, the major food source for some bird species and even a building material. Fuel and dyes were derived from them, and the nectar from the flowers produced some of the finest honey. Brushes, baskets, screens and hurdles are still made from the plants.
But though they have many uses, it is as decorative plants that heathers are supreme, producing flowers from late summer into winter, and from spring back into summer.
Acid soil is perfect for this plant, as with all ericaceous plants, but because it thrives naturally in poor soil, it will live on the cusp of acid, even tolerating a degree of alkaline soil and salt-laden coastal winds. Its other advantage is that it has a lovely range of flower colour and foliage.
For the full story on growing Heathers and Heaths visit my website