AS winter begins to show itself, in all its strange guises, surely it must be right to have plants in the garden that enjoy the short days, long nights and lower temperatures and that can give us colour and pleasure until the world tips back on its axis and gives us signs of spring.
Given that we live in an area surrounded by moorland and have acidic ground water, if not acidic soils, most of us will be able to provide a good garden environment for the winter flowering heathers.
Erica carnea, commonly known as the Winter or Alpine Heath, may sound a little 1970’s and we can probably all remember the heather and birch island beds conjured up by the Bloom family. Given a well-chosen spot and a number of winter hardy containers, you can have a small heather display that will give pleasure right through until April. In a larger garden you may choose to have a small heather bed with more than one type in to give pleasure throughout the year.
My preference would be for a small patch of ground with a few well-chosen rocks, a small collection of three or four different types and colours of winter heath, planted in groups of five or six, some small clumps of miniature Narcissi and alpine Ttlips and a small specimen conifer. With a good acidic soil (pH 4.5 – 6) and an annual trim of the heathers after flowering in April, this type of bed can give you up to 10 years of pleasure before you strip it out and have a rethink.
Look out for Erica x darlyensis, a hybrid of E. carnea and E. erigena that will help to extend the choice of flower and foliage colour for you and give you just as much pleasure.
For more details on the range of heathers, how to grow and display them and lots, lots more, why not visit the Heather Society website at www.heathersociety.org.uk .