Eri­cas can give spec­tac­u­lar win­ter dis­play

Newslink - - CLASSIFIEDS - Jane Wrig­glesworth

For colour in your gar­den, have you tried grow­ing the win­ter-flow­er­ing heaths? Brightly coloured bells cover the bushes dur­ing the cooler months for a mag­nif­i­cent fan­fare.

The true heaths be­long to the Erica fam­ily and there are some 700 species within the genus. Though the ones we are more fa­mil­iar with are Erica carnea, Erica melan­thera, Erica cerinthoides, Erica x darleyen­sis, Erica va­gans, Erica erig­ina, and one or two oth­ers.

Depend­ing on the species, and the cul­ti­var, flow­ers may be white, pink, pur­ple or red. There are hun­dreds of cul­ti­vars to choose from – your lo­cal gar­den cen­tre will have sev­eral, though a specialist nurs­ery, such as Blue Moun­tain Nurs­eries, in Ta­panui, will have many more.

Most eri­cas are hardy plants that with­stand frosts and snow, though when young, some may suc­cumb to frost dam­age on their tips. For the first year it’s a good idea to pro­tect from frost.

Many of the eri­cas are com­pact, like Erica carnea (win­ter heath), which grows 20-25cm high. Some are much taller grow­ing, like Erica va­gans (Cor­nish heath), which grows up to 80cm high, and Erica cerinthoides, which reaches 1-1.5m high.

Erica carnea makes a great ground cover for cold-cli­mate gar­dens. When planted en masse, the colourful bells look spec­tac­u­lar. There are nu­mer­ous cul­ti­vars in vary­ing flower and fo­liage colours. For ex­am­ple, we have Erica carnea ‘Spring­wood White’, which has pearly-white tubu­lar flow­ers with brown/red tips in win­ter.

Con­versely, there is Erica carnea ‘Myre­toun Ruby’, with its co­pi­ous racemes of deep rose-pink flow­ers from late win­ter to mid- spring. Both these plants grow 20-30cm high, with a spread of 40-60cm wide.

Erica cerinthoides ‘Red’ will brighten the win­ter gar­den with its lu­mi­nous red blooms on the tips of its stems. This cul­ti­var grows around 80cm high, maybe higher if left un­pruned, but prun­ing af­ter flow­er­ing is a must for de­cent flow­er­ing the fol­low­ing year. Cut the fo­liage back by half af­ter flow­er­ing.

Erica melan­thera ‘Ruby Shepherd’ has red­dish pink flow­ers and grows to a height of 75cm. Erica melan­thera ‘Im­proved’

has bright lip­stick pink flow­ers and grows up to 80cm high.

I’m a fan of white flow­ers, so some­thing like Erica eri­gena ‘Alba’, which grows 50cm high, and Erica col­orans ‘White De­light’ suit me. The lat­ter pro­duces tall spikes of showy white tubu­lar flow­ers that age pink. The stems can reach up to 1m high.

For fo­liage colour, look for Erica cinerea ‘Golden Drop’, a low­grow­ing hardy plant that grows up to 30cm high. The fo­liage puts on a strik­ing dis­play in win­ter then it turns a vi­brant rusty or­ange-red. The flow­ers come in sum­mer – a mass of rosy pur­ple bells.

Eri­cas re­quire an acid soil, though they will tol­er­ate slightly al­ka­line soil if fed with an acid fer­tiliser. They’re also great in con­tain­ers and hang­ing bas­kets.

Bright spots: Heaths make for a colourful win­ter dis­play.

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