My Heather Garden - As featured on "In the Garden" with Mike Darcy, Feb. 13, 2005 at 9:00 am!
"Gardening, like sex and food, lies somewhere between art and nature, being wholly neither but partly both." - Roger Grounds
-- Growth habits vary from tiny dwarfs and two inch high ground covers to small 'trees' five to seven feet tall.
In the fall of 2001 I chanced upon the heather garden at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. My initial reaction was "oh, cool..." as I passed on by in search of more exotic fare. The seed was planted, however. Later that fall I went to the local nursery and purchased a 'heather' plant and my urge was satisfied. Or was it? A couple of years later I typed the word 'heather' into a google search and began exploring. What I discovered nearly blew me away. Here are some quick facts I learned in my first 20 minutes researching the topic -
-- Heather blooms in colors from white and pale lilac to beetroot red and any of sixteen recognized color variations in between.
-- There are varieties of heather plants blooming every month of the year
-- There are about 1,500 different varieties of plants claiming the name 'heather'
That last statistic is where I suddenly realized the single heather plant I had purchased for my front flowerbed was probably not an adequate representation of the group. In fact, I was soon to discover that plant was a 'heath' and not a true heather at all! I went back to my local nursery to evaluate the possibilities of expanding my collection. To my surprise, they had 3 more of the same kind I already had, but that was all. The helpful attendant was unaware that there were more than two or three other varieties.
Time to divide and conquer. I am rarely intimidated by anything. However, 1,500 different plants, each with a unique growth habit, bloom color and cycle is pushing even me a bit. I took a step back to decide what my parameters were going to be. Here's what I came up with -
Color - I already have a lot of green stuff in the yard. Let's have color!
The yard is pretty bleak from late November until the daffodils come up in March - let's have color from December until April.
The location I selected is between the lawn and a decorative dry creek bed, so I need to keep the overall presentation very close to the ground so as not to obscure the view.
With tools available from the UK based Heather Society I began to narrow my search. Winter blooming plants narrowed the scope to 125 or so. Height requirements reduced the number to 80. The space I had available would be just about right for 60 plants, so now I'm getting in the ballpark. Time to look for a supplier.
Why do you suppose my local nursery only carries 3 different varieties? It's starting to seem obvious now. The search for a US based supplier was short. There aren't that many with a representative collection. But, what luck! I live within 150 miles of a nursery with the greatest number of heather varieties in the entire US - Heaths and Heathers based in Shelton, Washington. I placed my order and a long afternoon drive later I had my collection. This website documents my experience.
My first heather recollections are from the pink winter flowering plants my grandmother planted on both sides of the sidewalk leading up to the front door of her house in 1968.
Visited the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden in 2001
Visited the Horticulture Center of the Pacific's heather garden, 2004
Purchased Heaths and Heathers - Color for All Seasons by Karla Lortz, 2004
Placed plant order September, 2004 with Heaths and Heathers in Shelton, WA.
Picked up plants October 5, 2004
Planting complete October 10, 2004
To build a garden of heaths and heathers specifically
to generate color during the the otherwise bleak
months between December and March
18 hours of backbreaking shoveling
Erica carnea for winter bloom color
Calluna vulgaris for winter foliage
[catalog number] (quantity)
Alice Knight  (1)
Allegretto  (1)
Blazeaway  (1)
Braeriach  (1)
Bray Head  (1)
County Wicklow  (1)
Firefly  (1)
Foxii Nana  (2)
Naturpark  (1)
Red Fred  (1)
Robert Chapman  (1)
Silver Cloud  (1)
Spring Torch  (1)
Wickwar Flame  (1)
Erica arborea var. alpina  (1)
(22 varieties - 2 each of most)
Adrienne Duncan  (2)
Bell's Extra Special  (2)
Aurea  (2)
Beoley Pink  (2)
December Red  (2)
Golden Starlet  (2)
John Pook  (2)
King George  (2)
Myretoun Ruby  (2)
Nathalie  (2)
Pink Mist  (2)
Pink Spangles  (2)
Pirbright Rose  (2)
Porter's Red  (2)
Prince of Wales  (2)
R.B. Cooke  (2)
Robert Jan  (2)
Rosalie  (2)
Schneekuppe  (2)
Vivellii  (2)
Winterfreude  (4)
probably Jennifer Anne
My location is 'blessed' with the ugliest blue and yellow clay you could ever imagine. The only up-side is the extreme acidity that goes along with the clay. To create the desired drainage it was necessary to remove about two cubic yards of clay and replace it with 3.5 cubic yards of acidic sandy loam. This required 18 hours of shovel work. Fortunately, cool temperatures and breaks for rain (walking on slippery wet clay is dangerous, you know!) helped ease the project along.
The dirt recipe I used amounted to 25 pounds of sand, a cubic foot or so of expanded peat moss (not compressed), a couple heaping shovel-full's of aged hemlock bark dust, and enough dry, crumbled clay soil to fill a 6 cubic foot wheelbarrow. 19 loads later the trench I excavated was filled and nicely mounded, ready for planting.
The amended soil was very dry, even though it was raining intermittently during the project. The dry sand and peat moss alone were capable of sucking the last drops of moisture out of the poor plants. As soon as the planting was complete I turned on the sprinklers to water the garden gently six times a day for the first couple of days. Now we're down to a good soaking two or three times a week.
It's January now. The sprinklers have been shut off and drained. In spite of a relatively dry autumn and early winter there's still plenty of moisture to keep the plants happy. Many have begun to bloom. All the heathers have been trimmed (mid December), removing all the dead blooms. That project was completed not a day too soon as shortly thereafter I began to notice the tell-tale brightly colored 'buds' of new growth appearing. I'm starting to collect pictures of each variety as they come into full bloom. (These pictures are posted as links on the 'initial inventory' list above.) There are a few that may not have enough blooms to get a decent picture this year, but they'll be posted as they become available.
The Heather Garden Journal