Sunday, 9 February 2014

Heathers

We live on Cotswold oolitic limestone which gives alkaline soil, not conducive to growing Heathers. Heathers belong to the Ericaceae family and require an acidic soil to flourish. 
The site where we were interested in growing heathers was infertile and at the edge of a stone patio with bits of stone and concrete residue left behind from when it was made. How then to put acid loving plants into alkaline and rubbish soil? Following some investigations, I discovered three happy pieces of information.  Heathers can tolerate infertile soil due to a fungi that they have called mycorrhizal which assists them in extracting whatever nutrients they can find from infertile soil. My second discovery was that there are some heathers that do thrive very happily in alkaline soil. As long as the heather has the words Erica carnea or Erica x darleyensis on the label then they will flourish in alkaline soil. I managed to track down over 30 cultivars covering the whole spectrum of heather colours from deepest ruby pink with dark green foliage to white and pink with pale cream and lime green foliage. The third and final discovery was that they like good drainage, which we most definitely have.
We planted small immature Common Box hedging plants (Buxus sempervirens) along the patio edge interspersed with different heathers on either side. As the box matured we began to clip it into the shape of balls. The heather was also clipped so that it snuggled around the bottom of the box balls. Ten years later they are mature - thriving incredibly well - the only maintenance being a quick annual trim.

74 comments:

  1. I don't know so much about plants, but, I enjoy them a lot and this post is great


    Marina

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    1. I am so pleased that you enjoyed seeing it Marina - I wasn't sure whether you have heather in Spain, but having looked it up - you do. It is most likely that you have it in the mountains.

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  2. I don't know which varieties my heathers are because they were here when we moved in, I just know it's wonderful to have something that flowers in winter and needs very little attention!
    They spread well too, so excellent ground cover, and look just right with your box balls.

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    1. Dear Jessica - it sounds as if you might have alkaline soil too. The Acid loving heathers tend to flower in the summer.

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  3. I am not a heather lover but this is a spectacular show. Such a great idea to plant them on either side of the box balls, it is a beautiful piece of your garden.

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    1. I think that the secret with heathers is to keep them well trimmed otherwise they can become woody and unkempt looking. They certainly form a more interesting, almost attention free, edge to the patio.

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  4. I envy you your picture perfect box pom poms. We planted some bare root Lonicera Nitida last year around our newly created vegetable beds. It's a beautiful and more economic choice than box. We're hoping it will live up to it's more common name of Box Honeysuckle.
    Jean x

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    1. Good luck with that - I like some small hedging around vegetable beds too. I bought about 30 small box plants from Woolworths in the days when they used to have plants during the spring, and they were very cheap. H has taken lots of cuttings from them, and we now have circles of box around trees, along paths, an octagonal parterre, and lots of other balls all created from the original plants.

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  5. The Buxus look lovely. The Erica's are doing very well and your photos show the lovely blooms.
    We can grow both of these plants here in Tasmania. I expect back in the Colonial days plants were bought from England, Scotland & Ireland by the free settlers to Tasmania.

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    1. The good thing with both of these plants is that once they are established all they need is a 'hair cut' once a year - no fertiliser or anything else.

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  6. Hello Rosemary, I would have thought that you could acidify a bed for the heather without too much difficulty. However, your specimens look wonderful, so you must be doing the right thing. Along with your other readers, I admire your box plants. It's funny, I thought that I didn't want a garden (as opposed to an orchard), but more and more I see plants I would like to grow if I did have one.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - of course you are right, we could have changed the ph of the soil, but there was so little space between the zig zag edge of the patio and the lawn that it would have been a difficult job. Getting into oolitic limestone is not an easy task requiring a hammer and crow bar so it was quite a task just to make a hole for the plants alone.
      A garden gives an immense amount of satisfaction - perhaps you could have both a garden and an orchard.

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  7. I envy you your magnificent Buxus... we have some rather poor specimens - a consequence of rather over zealous trimming :-) On the other hand, we have had great success with heathers... they thrive in the heavy clay soils around here!
    Beautiful photography here Rosemary, as ever :-)

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    1. Dear Nat - once you have established a good shape for the box it is very easy to keep. All of our balls are now really dense. When new they had about 5 or six small straight stems - it is amazing how they have developed. Perhaps you could leave off trimming them for a coupe of years, and then trim them gently to creating a shape - it is a bit like cutting hair.

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  8. the heathers i plant have always behaved like annuals.....now i'm wondering if it's just our climate or if there are some that might do better in our temperatures. beautiful photos! how lovely to have this during the winter months!!

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    1. Dear Steph - all heathers are perennial plants so you should be able to keep them year after year. May be you are growing the wrong ones in the wrong soil - depending on whether you have alkaline or acidic?
      The first year that they are planted they need LOTS of water and should not be allowed to dry out at all. Once they are established the need for water is not necessary and they can then even tolerate drought conditions.

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  9. Love the combination of the Buxus and the different Heathers. Makes a wonderful low kind of hedge to enjoy year round. Hope you garden isn't as flooded as ours. From what we see on television England has some terrible floods now. I hope things will get better and the rain will finally stop here and there.
    Marian

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    1. There is terrible flooding in Somerset and parts of the southeast of England - I really feel for the people who have had their homes ruined by flood water. We actually live on top of a 750 foot hill so no fear of us flooding, and our land dries out very quickly.
      The heathers and box work well together and give good structure to the garden all year round.

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  10. Lucky you Rosemary to have found them. Your Heather and buxus combination are so beautiful. They go well together.

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    1. The combination works better than we anticipated, and the good thing is that they keep the weeds away, and require very little maintenance.

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  11. I like the way you've combined your heathers with the box balls. Both look really healthy and attractive although I expect they took some time to get established.

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    1. It probably took two or three years before they matured into a good shape, but right from the beginning they gave good structure.

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  12. Heather grows very well on Vancouver Island and right about now gives the loveliest jolt of colour. We live at a higher elevation, so it will be a couple of weeks before we see the lovely bright pink.
    I like your idea of tucking it under the boxwood.

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    1. The pink heathers were the first to show their faces in Janauary, followed now by the snowdrops and hellebores. It is lovely to see all them peeping through the soil again.

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  13. Dear Rosemary,

    You garden looks lovely, no, more than lovely. It's obvious that all your research has (no pun intended) paid you back in spades! I like all the care you've taken with the hedges.

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    1. Dear Mark - Thank you for your kind comment. The box balls are very rewarding - the time taken to train them into becoming balls has been well repaid many times over as they give us green structure in the garden all year round.

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  14. Your garden is simply amazing and a joy for the eyes! You are a great gardener Rosemary!

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    1. We are very keen on our garden Olympia and spent quite a lot of time thinking about the design and planning how we would do it. We have various different areas in the garden that we have split up into 'rooms' which each having its own distinctive feel.

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  15. Hi Rosemary, your heathers are looking simply beautiful! I love the first pale pink one with the lilac tint and, of course, the white flowering one. Up to now I also thought that heathers only grow in acidic soil, so interesting to know that there are different varieties out there, that take it up with alkaline soil. Your box wood spheres are wonderful and the combination with the heathers is great. By the way, nice to get some glimpses into your garden. What I can see is very pretty and so well taken care off. Hope you show some more pictures of it in the future. Have a nice evening!
    Christina

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    1. Dear Christina - glad you enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the garden. Whilst I have been blogging I have shown different aspects of the garden from time to time and no doubt will again. As I mentioned to Olympia (comment above) we have split the garden up into rooms, each one having a different feel to it, and we even have a hallway running through the middle to join them all together.

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  16. how beautiful and cheerful! and I learne dthat the name Heather comes from a beautiful flower:-))) thank you so much!

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    1. Dear Jana - Heather is a girls name often associated with Scotland as lots of heather grows on the mountains there.

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  17. Buxus and Erica are a lovely combination , unfortunately Erica don't grow well here in Milan because of the hot summers , but I have many Buxus in my garden...some clipped round and some clipped square.

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    1. I dont know why more people do not grown Buxus it gives so much all year round green structure to the garden, and once established is so easy, as you know - just a trim once a year.

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  18. I have always loved Heathers (perhaps because it is my second name). Yours look spectacular - thank you.

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    1. Whenever I think of the name Heather I see the Highlands of Scotland in my mind.

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  19. Dear Rosemary,
    I do like heather. I can't tell you hoe many little pieces are pressed in the pages of various books. Cousins of mine ran an estate on Rannoch Moor and I cannot see heather without thinking of the seemingly endless miles of it as you walked across those moors.
    Kirk

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    1. Scotland and heather are forever linked with me too. It is the heather that gives Scotland's mountains their unique colouring.

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  20. Such beautuful flowers Rosemary!!Preety colours too!!Your garden looks gorgeous!!Amazing pictures!
    Wish you a happy week!!
    Dimi...

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    1. Thanks Dimi - the sun is shinning at last and all feels good.

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  21. Dear Rosemary, Your garden is so beautiful and so early in the season!. Have never grown heather...don't think it will grow in our desert climate, at least I have not seen it here. Your combination of Box and Heather is a wonderful and original combination.
    How often do you have to trim the box to keep it so perfectly round? It looks like a lot of work.

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    1. Heather is a great little plant especially if you keep it cut rather like lavender - leave the heather, and it will grow tall and woody. Of course the bees love it too, heather honey is some of the best.
      The box requires very little attention - we always trim the balls and hedging in June and that is it until the next June.
      The good thing is that it gives us greenery, shape and structure to the garden all year round.

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  22. The heathers are lovely, It is wonderful to have some colour at a time of year when not much else is out. Heather always reminds me of moors, in Scotland and elsewhere, too. As you say, heather honey is some of the best, people do move their hives long distances so that the bees can benefit from it.

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    1. If bees come to the garden at least I will not have to move the skep as I have plenty of heather for them to enjoy. When the bees do arrive our heather patches simply hum with their buzzing.

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  23. You've made a most beautiful display there, Rosemary and the heathers obviously love their situation. Seeing heather flourishing in the thin, stony soils of the Highlands and moorlands, I knew it can manage with little in the way of nutrients, but I didn't realise there are now alkaline-tolerant cultivars.

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    1. We are pleased with our tapestry of heathers they are very little bother too. A good trim once a year to stop them going woody and they keep the weeds at bay too.

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  24. Your research paid lots of dividends and the heathers look so lovely and provide colour especially at this time of the year. Do you know how much you can trim them back by? Sarah x

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    1. Dear Sarah - once the heathers are established and beginning to grow then they can be clipped. We have always kept ours low, they then become very dense rather like cushions, and all merge together to form a tapestry effect. Once they are allowed to become woody they will grow like a bush and are not very attractive.

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  25. I love your landscape design using heathers and hedging plants. Some background check on the heathers and you are now rewarded with such a lovely garden.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment - I was delighted to discover that we could grow some cultivar heathers especially as we have alkaline soil. Why do we always want the things in our garden that often don't want to grow with us?

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  26. Lovely! I have never tried heather. My soil is acidic so perhaps I'll investigate. Love boxwood. Have tons of them. Your pictures make me anxious for spring.

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    1. You have the perfect soil for Heathers - the world is your oyster as regards the many different ones you could grow.
      Two tips - the first year keep them well water and do not let them dry out - once they are established and growing trim them so that they do not get woody.

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  27. One of the few things previously planted in the new to us garden is heather. The small clumps up against the side of the house has bothered me since we moved here. Your plants look so good it prompted me to go to the heather society to get some info. Poor things are in the wrong place, too much shade and unbelievably planted in the driest spot of our otherwise wet property. I have no idea if they will transplate successfully but I think I must give it a try. I hate to see them not reaching their full potential.

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    1. Dear Susan - if they are not thriving where they are then you might as well try them in a better spot - good luck.

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  28. Impressive your first picture. So many details and still extremely sharp.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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  29. My dearest Rosemary ,so nice garden !! You have planted ten years before the heathers and now you have an amazing garden ! These flowers love so much the bees and they make honey which is very taste !
    Have a nice week !

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    1. Dear Olympia - when the days get a bit warmer the heather will be covered in bees, and as you say they love it. You are right heather honey is some of the best.

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  30. Mam kwaśną glebę, wiec nie ma problemów z nimi. Pomysłowa połączyłaś wrzosy z innymi roślinami.Śliczne jest pierwsze zdjęcie. Pozdrawiam.
    I have acidic soil, so there is no problem with them. The ingenious połączyłaś heathers with other plants. Cute is the first picture. Yours.

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    1. Thanks Giga - it is important to know the ph of your soil otherwise you can put plants in that will not flourish.

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  31. What an interesting and useful post! I admire successful and devoted gardeners very much (my efforts are a bit hit & miss), but I always wonder if it is wise to struggle to cultivate plants in the wrong soil and situation. I'm not keen on adding chemicals or poisons either.

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    1. You are right Nilly - also life is too short to spend time trying to change the ph of your soil. I would like to grow blue hydrangeas rather than the pink that I have, but I have read peoples blogs that grow blue ones and wish they could have pink!!!

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  32. You really have a green thumb, rosemary. Your passion for Heathers and efforts to make them thrive with the learning about plant nutrition and soil made up all these lovely scenes. I always sigh in contentment to see the photos of your garden. As to my modest garden, I easily depend on flower pots when soil doesn’t fit to the plant.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko if you want something special and do not have the right conditions then pots are a good solution. We are very pleased that the heather have settled in so well, they take very little care and suppress the weeds too.

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  33. You have certainly proved it can be done with hard work, looks lovely. My parents used to have a collection of heathers in their garden Surrey, which always did well.

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    1. Yes, I remember that heather grows wild in Surrey as well as in gardens - there used to be lots of it on Frensham Common.

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  34. Hi Rosemary,
    Wow, those flowers look so pretty.
    From Bea Cupcake

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    1. Thanks Bea - how are you and is it wet in Paris? - it is very wet here.

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  35. What a beautiful garden you have Rosemary and so much colour.

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    1. These heathers that are happy growing on alkaline soil tend to flower mainly in the winter and springtime rather than the summer. Hope everything is ok with you down in the Severn Vale.

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  36. I love heathers too Rosemary and I just love the look of yours. They are so pretty.
    Patricia x

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    1. The box balls and the heathers seem to compliment each other well.

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  37. Gosh, what a fantastic garden you have! I love wild heather if I am out on the heath, but confess I have never looked terribly closely at cultivated ones. I will next time. I love the way you've clipped your hedges too.

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    1. Thanks Jenny - the clipped box and the heathers seem to work well and make a happy combination.

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