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 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 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…..
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).
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?