“Win­ter heather is an at­trac­tive cold-sea­son clas­sic,” says Gra­ham

Ever­green fo­liage and pretty, long-last­ing flow­ers make win­ter heather a cold-sea­son clas­sic, but which of the 27 AGM er­i­cas are on Gra­ham Rice’s list?

Amateur Gardening - - This Week In Gardening -

IN the past few years the rep­u­ta­tion of heathers has both im­proved and got a whole lot worse. On the plus side we’ve seen heathers in­creas­ingly of­fered ev­ery­where from gar­den cen­tres to petrol sta­tions and dis­count su­per­mar­kets. The only prob­lem is, these tend to be dyed in all man­ner of lurid colours.

Of course, it’s tes­ta­ment to the plants’ re­silience that they keep that dyed growth for weeks. But those colours: puce, lime-green, elec­tric-blue? As a friend (rightly) pointed out to me the other day: ‘Real gar­den­ers ab­so­lutely hate them.’

The prob­lem is that new­com­ers to win­ter gar­den­ing – and to heathers in par­tic­u­lar – don’t re­alise that this is all a mad mod­ern man­i­fes­ta­tion. These plants re­ally do not need any ar­ti­fi­cial en­hance­ment. There are hun­dreds of lovely heathers in a vast va­ri­ety of fo­liage tints and flower colours. And you can have blooms – nat­u­rally, with­out dye – all the year round.

This win­ning blend of flo­ral and fo­liage ef­fects makes er­i­cas in­valu­able for win­ter. The ever­green fo­liage adds colour dur­ing the colder months. And it’s not just green – those in bronze shades are es­pe­cially use­ful as they set off the bright­ness of small bulbs so well. There are also va­ri­eties in gold and am­ber, with red­dish tints, and even those whose fo­liage changes as the sea­sons come and go.

The blooms com­prise dainty lit­tle bells that line the stems in win­ter, of­ten for many months. Open­ing in reds, pinks and white, they pro­vide food for in­sects that are out and about on sunny days.

So, that’s good fo­liage all year round, plus de­light­ful flow­ers from No­vem­ber to March. The other fea­ture of these hardy win­ter heathers that en­dears them to gar­den­ers is that, un­like other heathers, they’re happy in all soils. The rest are fussy; they will sicken and fade

away in limy soils and, con­se­quently, won’t grow in the ma­jor­ity of gar­dens across the coun­try. Win­ter heathers will (although they will not thrive in chalk).

And fi­nally, there’s no gar­den in the coun­try for which win­ter heathers are too vig­or­ous or grow too large. Yes, some reach 16-18in (40-50cm) in height, but most grow to lit­tle more than half that (8in/20cm). You can grow them in a win­dow­box, or try a sin­gle plant in a 4.5in (12cm) pot. They don’t need much room – all that bushi­ness nar­rows to a few wiry stems at the base, which will even fit into a small hole in paving.

Don’t let those heathers dyed in lurid shades colour your judge­ment – that’s not what these plants are about. In truth, they’re pretty yet tough – and there’s room for them in ev­ery gar­den. Lit­er­ally.

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