Heather

‘All around the Blooming Heather’

As I have no hellebores in my garden and few snowdrops,  I have decided to write about heather – a plant abundant in Scotland .
Actually the name heather can refer to two different but very similar plants, callunas and ericas.  As I am no botanist and no expert on heather either you are best to follow one of these links if you want to know the difference.

The Heather Society
Growing Heathers and Heaths

white heather

white heather growing under my cherry tree. It has needle like leaves and flowers in early spring – does that make it an erica?

The heather than grows wild in the Scottish Highlands is usually the purple calluna vulgaris. Occasionally wild heather can be white and if you find any it is supposed to be very lucky. The name calluna comes from the Greek word kallunein meaning to cleanse: heathers were often used in making brooms as well as medically (to sort out internal disorders…..).

Heather is relatively easy to grow, but it does like an acid soil and plenty of sunshine.
They can be planted to flower in almost every month: in general callunas flower from summer to autumn while ericas flower from winter to spring.

At certain times of the year it is easy to pick up heathers going cheap at the garden centre. I am gradually building up a collection for a narrow border at the n orth of the house. They probably don’t get enough sun to do very well, but they do seem to be establishing OK. The problem is I have no idea which is which,  so I will have to try and work it out according to when they flower.

I have one heather I have managed to keep alive for many years. It is planted on a slope at the back of the house under an ornamental cherry tree. The problem is that I would like the heather to surround the tree evenly, but instead it gradually working its way down the slope and not growing up the slope at all! I am seriously worried in a few years it won’t even be round the tree at all!  It is taking over more and more of the lawn and you can see in the picture my attempt this year to cut it back a bit.

Heather travelling down the slope

Heather hurtling down the slope

Heather is generally easy to grow but it does require careful pruning otherwise it can grow very leggy and messy. Heather is usually cut back directly after pruning before the new shoots start growing. If you leave it too late you will cut off all the stems that will bear the next year’s flowers. I know because I have done just that.

If you don’t prune at all it can have disastrous consequences…..

Albert's Gold

Albert’s Gold looking follically challenged

Last Spring I bought a wonderful bright green shrub called ‘Albert’s Gold’ to brighten up the Herbaceous border in the Winter. I somehow managed to miss the fact that this was a tree heather – Erica Arborea.  After it flowered it looked as if it was dying and only after it was too late I realised it was making new growth right at the top of the plant. It now looks rather ridiculous. I only hope that I can cut it back after its next flowering season.

I can’t leave this post without sharing a beautiful use for heather stems. This is a pill box, made from heather stems and bought at the Heather Gems shop in Pitlochry. It is a bit tatty as it was well loved by my mother-in law (in as much as a pill box can be well loved).

Heather Gems pill box

Heather Gems pill box

The Heather Gems website explains how the jewellery is made and has great ideas for unusual and beautiful gifts.  (And no I am not on commission – yet!)

Next Garden Post: 22/2/14  Is it Autumn again or nearly Spring?

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16 thoughts on “‘All around the Blooming Heather’

  1. Hi , I have Alberts gold in our garden I bought it about a year or so and it’s doing well ,if I remember correctly it grows about 5ft eventually.
    As for heathers we don’t have any but you have made me think we should get a few .we have a lot of dwarf conifers so heathers would go well .I think that’s looked at as a bit old fashioned by many but our garden looks great in the winter with plenty structure so who cares !! Anyway good luck with the recovery of your Alberta’s gold.

    • Thanks. I don’t think I read the label at all when I planted the Albert’s Gold. Still it will give the border some winter colour and structure. I think heathers would look good with dwarf conifers, especially the lovely pink ones.

  2. Hi , thanks for your comments .looking at the heather around the tree it might help if you cut back the grass at the top of the picture around the tree to expose more soil which will encourage the heather to spread in that direction,or have you already tried that.?

    • That is a good idea. There is a bit of soil exposed already, but I could dig a bit more and add some compost. I also thought about cutting it back as usually when you cut things back they grow even more, but there is not so much to cut. I think the power of gravity is just too strong. I suppose I could always try some new plants in my newly dug soil, maybe there are some rooted pieces I could pinch from lower down the hill. Thanks for your feedback – definitely time I took more action rather than just the annual pruning.

  3. I like your alberts gold, I found a good old book in Stornoway library about heathers, that was the first time I learnt there are several types of erica, a good way to propagate ericas is to cover stems with soil/compost and they will root into it, I planted an erica I bought into a deeper hole so only the top third showed then I filled in with a compost and soil mix, when I dug it up a year later I had several plants, Frances

    • I too remember reading that you could do that if your heather got very leggy though it must be a lot harder to do that with an old plant than with a new one. It was a long time ago that I read it and haven’t seen that advice lately. Really interesting to hear that it works.

      • Annette the plant I did it with was a new plant I had just bought, I would think it could be tricky digging up an old plant, I’ve heard/read you can mound up compost over an old plant leaving the top exposed but I have not tried this so I am not recommending it, Frances

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  5. My Albert’s Gold is loosing its leaves on the lower stems. It is in a10in pot and 15 in high. Purchased in the spring. Potted up in ericaceous soil. Kept moist with rain water. What is going wrong? Any ideas?
    Many thanks, Baz

    • Hi Stephen,
      Thanks for visiting my blog.
      Did your Albert’s Gold flower and then make new growth at the top?
      That is what happened to mine and then it lost its leaves at the bottom. Reading about this plant on the internet it seems that how you prune it in the first few years is quite important. If I remember correctly you should prune it after flowering and then it will make new shoots nearer the bottom. Other than that it sound as if you are doing everything right. You are maybe too late to prune now, but maybe you could cut it back next spring when it is ready to grow again. I am no expert though, so you could check either with the garden centre or online to see what is suggested.
      Good luck.

      • Good morning, Annette.
        Very helpful. Trouble is I bought this on impulse at the Garden Centre because it looked attractive. I don’t think the folk know an awful lot about plants! We are not acid soil so it would only grow in a container. It has not flowered. It does look a bit like the ‘follicularlily challenged’ specimen shown earlier in your blog. We have an open garden day to morrow so I think I will have to dash out and get something to replace them and put them in the nursery to work out their own salvation!

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