The Heather Family

Heathers are some of the most efficient of weed-smothering plants. You can have a border or part of a garden completely free of weeds by planting it with Heather. The dwarf, mat-forming kinds are best; the tall Tree-Heathers, with their erect stems or branches, are not much good for this purpose, though they are all intrinsically fine garden-plants.

Furthermore you can have some sort of Heather in bloom every day of the year – you need never be without colour all through the autumn and winter months.

Heathers or Heaths are usually divided into three groups, viz. Erica; Calluna; and Daboecia. They are evergreens and a great number of them make the useful low spreading type of plant.

Most of them need a lime-free soil; Rhododendron acid loam is ideal to plant them in; then when they are well established, they want no fertilizers and prosper and are longer lived in light sandy soils on the poor side, such as they get in their natural habitats.

In cultivation, in rich ground, they grow tall and lanky and shabby-looking, in much the same way as the Lavender Cotton does.

Winter-flowering Heathers, except the tall Tree kinds, must be lightly clipped over immediately after they have flowered; this keeps them dwarf and compact and causes them to burgeon near the lower part of the stems. If, however, you leave the plants unpruned for several years, you must cut back only one or two of the long woody stems at a time, for a too drastic pruning of the plant might kill it. I have found this invariably happens with the Calluna Heathers (the common Ling, which includes the Scottish White Heather); the old thick woody stems, often 2 feet long and naked except for the growth at the top, die when cut back to within a few inches of the base.

The Erica family comprises a vast number of species, most of them natives of the Cape of Good Hope and too tender for our gardens; the European kinds, however, are hardy and all evergreen.

Most nurseries list about a dozen different species of Erica, and many varieties, some of which were raised by growers and Nurseries in this country.

The easiest group to grow is no doubt Erica carnea and its varieties and forms – easy, primarily because they will thrive in any ordinary soil, even that in which lime is present; on the other hand, I have seen lean-looking specimens that have been growing in clay. I wouldn’t recommend heavy clay for any of them.

In the wild they grow in peat and sand, sometimes more sand than peat; and they like open places such as moorland; they grow sometimes under trees but never flower profusely in shade – often not at all in deep shade. In gardens they need plenty of sun.

A substitute for peat is sifted leafmould with some coarse sand, say, one part leafmould to two parts of sand. Heathers of any of the groups will thrive in this medium.

It is not necessary to feed the plants ever; it may be necessary to soak them well the first summer if there is a drought. But do not give any kind of manure. Weak liquid manure has been known to kill practically any Heather you apply it to. (I am told by a grower that weak soot water is excellent for them; I have never tried this; but it would be best given after the soil has been well soaked.)

The species itself [E. carnea) is a native of Central Europe and was introduced into England about the middle of the 18th century. It is a low-growing shrublet about 10 inches high in its mature state; more often than not only half that. When in flower it makes a rounded mass of rosy-red blossom, which massed in wide drifts is a sheer delight. E. carnea received an A.M. In 1924.

I’ve never seen this plant growing in gardens, by the way; and I don’t know anybody who has it. It begins to bloom in February as a rule and continues till April. There are, however, earlier varieties, and those with brighter, more beautiful flowers. No doubt the type plant has been eclipsed by its numerous varieties.

Eileen porter blooms from October to April and has rich carmine red flowers. (A.M. In 1956.) winter beauty is often in full bloom at Christmas and has bright rose-pink flowers – white in the bud as with many of the Heathers.

Two white-flowered ones are springwood (A.M. 1930) and snow queen. I don’t care much for either; I find they spread very rapidly and are inclined to smother choicer varieties near them. King george (A.M. 1922 and A.G.M. 1932) is a special favourite with gardeners. It is a dwarf and keeps compact and has deep pink flowers which come early in the year. Ruby glow has rich dark red flowers and bronzy foliage. Atrorubra has deep pink flowers in March and April and is the last of the carnea varieties to bloom.

For an immediate effect, the plants are set as close as 9 inches apart and they quickly make broad patches of colour – the flowers seem unaffected by the worst frosts.

Gardeners who don’t grow these Heathers would be delighted by the glowing colours they provide in mid-winter. They might like to try a drift of the bluish Crocus sieberi in front of the deep pink Heather king george, and behind them a group of the hybrid Rhododendron praecox. All flower simultaneously and in February. A magnificent show for winter, and something to make one look forward to February! You can think of other arrangements, using winter-flowering Crocuses, varieties of Erica carnea and perhaps a Rhododendron or a Witch Hazel (Hamamelis). (Thinking out some sort of planting scheme for one’s garden is a good way of relaxing.)

As these Heathers get older, they form longer, spreading branches and cover quite a lot of ground; they are effectual weed smotherers. But where the plants have been set close together (for immediate effect, as I’ve just mentioned), some of them should be moved and planted elsewhere.

Nothing could be better for the rockery than the E. carnea varieties, planted singly, perhaps in a pocket, or at the foot of a boulder, the grey or buff stone affording an excellent background to the red, pink and crimson flowers. (The name carnea means ‘flesh-coloured’.)

Several species of Heather are natives of Britain. These are the Dorset Heath, Erica ciliaris; the Scotch or Grey Heath, E. cinerea; the Cross-leaved Heath, E. tetralix; the Cornish Heather, E. vagans; besides several which are indigenous only to parts of Southern Ireland; and there are some good natural hybrid forms.

Outside the Erica family are Culluna vulgaris (originally Erica vulgaris – the common Ling, which blooms in autumn); and Daboccia cantabrica, the Irish Heath or Saint Dabeoc’s Heath.

All these Heathers need lime-free ground and revel in sandy peat.

Erica vagans, the Cornish Heather, is found in regions of South-West Europe and covers the heathland or moors in late summer and autumn with its purplish-pink tiny flowers (carried in racemes about 6 inches long.)

It may be seen colouring sunny slopes in Cornwall and the south and is an attractive feature of the landscape in those parts. It is more striking than the common paler pink Heather we find in districts near London.

In the wild it makes a low, spreading bush up to 2| feet high and twice as much across, becoming in time sprawling and untidy.

In gardens it is usually clipped over in spring to keep it neat and more compact; continual cutting it back in this way, however, tends to make the racemes shorter; but this does no harm.

The variety grandiflora has racemes of rose-coloured flowers, often 15 inches long. It is frequently in bloom from June till the frosts come. Mrs. maxwell is regarded as the finest of all the varieties of E. vagans (A.M. 1925). It has deep cerise flowers covering its spreading 12-inch stems; it is beautiful from July to October. This is an excellent shrublet for massing in a sunny spot and will provide a patch of magnificent colour when there is little flowering in the garden. The plant is a natural hybrid from the Serpentine region of Cornwall.

The best white form I have seen so far is lyonesse. It has pure white flowers with conspicuous brown anthers and is in bloom from late summer to the end of October. Not everybody cares for white Heather; they are best kept perhaps for the large Heather garden where they can be used in association with mixed reds and pinks of many other varieties. They are dull planted on their own, I think; and should not be chosen for small garden or plot.

Var. kevernensis is very similar to the type plant, but has larger, bell-shaped blossoms, which are an uncommonly beautiful shade of pure rose-pink.

The vagans Heathers are late summer and early autumn plants; so by chosing suitable varieties of these and the cornea Heathers, we can have a show of colour from July to about April, (vagans = wandering; of wide distribution.)

The hybrid Erica X darleyensis begins blooming here, in South Bucks., at the end of November and goes on till early May. It is a cross between E. carnea and E. mediterranea and has inherited some of the character of E. carnea: in its early stages it forms compact mound-like growths and can hardly be distinguished from that dwarf species. But ultimately it forms a bushy plant about 18 inches high; but it never becomes as tall and erect as the other parent, E. mediterranea.

For my part, I regard it as the most valuable of all the Heathers for the average garden. It grows well in ordinary soils (doesn’t mind the presence of lime), and thrives remarkably when given an annual mulching of decayed leaves or leafmould. Its flowers are pink – not so striking a shade as that of any of the carnea varieties. Nonetheless the plant is really enchanting when seen in broad masses in late November. Plant the bluish-lilac autumn Crocus pulchellus in front of it. Erica X darleyensis is a plant which should be in every garden. (It originated in the heath nursery of J. Smith and Son, at Darley Dale, Derbyshire.)

Two varieties are offered by nurseries, viz. George rendall, with deeper pink flowers. And silber schmelze (a fascinating name: German, meaning Silver Crystals or glass beads). A free-flowering, white Heather.

Erica ciliaris is another native Heather and is especially plentiful in Dorset, covering large areas of common near Poole Harbour. It is found too in Cornwall and the West of Ireland; and it also occurs in parts of South-west Europe. It seems to flower most luxuriantly within reach of the sea air and is therefore not so popular with those of us who garden inland. I have found it difficult to establish in Buckinghamshire. It needs a moist, deep, leafy soil, which is open and sandy, and the plant should be clipped over every second year to keep it neat and compact. It is of straggling habit, the stems prostrate with erect flowering shoots springing from them, these shoots being from 6 to 12 inches high. The flowers, pitcher-shaped, are rose-red and come in July and last till late October.

Var. globosa is a delightful, natural form, with grey-green shoots and erect spikes of rose-pink flowers. It blooms till the frosts come.

There are several other attractive varieties. Perhaps the most striking of these is Var. maweana (named for Mr. G. Maw, who found it in 1872 in Portugal). It has stiffer, slenderer flowering stems, and the plant is covered in autumn with large rose-crimson blossoms. The foliage is a darker green than that of the type plant. A very fine Heather and less straggling than the others of the ciliaris group, (ciliaris means ‘fringed with hairs’ and refers to the leaves.)

E. cinerea (grey or the colour of ashes; referring to the foliage). It has a wide distribution in Europe: from Norway down to Spain and North Italy and is common on many of our moors. To give the best display of flowers, it needs sandy peaty ground in full sun and is as a rule short-lived in cultivated soils, especially in the Thames Valley region. It benefits much from an annual clipping over in spring before the new growth commences; but the clipping must not be drastic or possibly the stems will die back completely.

There is an extraordinarily large number of varieties on the market; consequently it is difficult to make a selection for a small garden. (One mustn’t forget that Heathers grow into large, spreading plants after some years: a first-year plant occupying a space only 4 inches square, may after years of growth require 2 square feet or more.)

I single out Var. c. d. eason as one of the best. Its colour is brilliant – a luminous red. It reaches 12 inches in height and makes a neat shrublet for a limited space. A pleasant little plant with its dark green foliage when the flowers are over. (I grow it: it is inclined to get straggly after some years; but clipping keeps it neat; but too much will prevent its flowering at all; it won’t flower freely in shade or even partial shade.)

Var. goccinea is an old variety which I can’t get from the nurseries now. It has vivid red, or scarlet flowers and is one of the less vigorous Heathers. It has probably been superseded by Var. atrosanguinea, which has darker red flowers and is more dwarf and compact in habit.

Var. atrorubens has been described by a collector as ‘A must.’ The colour is a fiery red which shows up from a longdistance. (A.M. 1915.)

There are several white forms: one, Var. alba minor is a good choice for rockeries, carrying its masses of pure white flowers on stems only a few inches high. It is best planted in a pocket on its own and allowed to spread where it will.

Var. rosea, with bright rose-red flowers, is an excellent Heather for massing. It received an A.G.M. In 1928.

These Heathers are summer and autumnal-blooming plants and among the most beautiful and useful of low-growing evergreens for a period when flowers in the garden are comparatively scarce.

Less often seen in our gardens are the following.

Erica mackqyi (mackaiana) is regarded as a hybrid by some authorities. It is an attractive Heather, about a foot tall. The foliage is emerald-green and the flowers are rose-crimson; they are at their best in late summer. This Heather is found wild in Connemara, South-west Ireland; and in North-west Spain.

A better garden plant is the variety plena, which has double rose coloured flowers. They continue in bloom till September.

E. tetralix. The common name is the Cross-leaved Heath. The tiny leaves (dark green above; white beneath) comes in whorls, or rings round the stem, and are in the form of a cross.

This is another of our native Heathers and is found in many parts of the British Isles; it has a wider distribution than any other species. Broad masses of its rose-coloured flowers are a feature of many of our moorlands during the summer months -its blooming period is roughly from June to October.

About half a dozen varieties are offered by nurseries. Var. mollis has light grey-green foliage and pure white flowers, which are lovely from June to late October.

For small gardens one of the red-flowered varieties is usually preferred. And I recommend rubra, with dark red flowers carried above the greyish foliage. It is a fine little shrub which gives a bright show of colour, even when planted on its own. {Tetralix is the Latin for ‘a plant, Heath.)’

Erica X watsonii is a natural hybrid between E. ciliaris and E. tetralix and was found growing on moors near Truro by Mr. H. G. Watson. It has rose-coloured flowers, pitcher-shaped and carried in racemes. They are lovely all through the late summer and often continue in bloom till November.

The dwarf Heathers I have described here are the best for limited spaces; and there are enough of them to furnish a large area, if a Heather Garden is wanted. In a small garden a Heather Patch, a few yards square, would be an excellent feature and provide a good show of colour for many months of the year. By leaving the faded flowers of the summer and autumn Heathers untouched, one gets an attractive brown and green effect all through the winter. This, by the way, is the correct treatment of these Heathers; they should not be pruned or clipped over till March or April. The winter varieties, as I’ve already mentioned , are pruned immediately they have flowered.

The Tree-Heathers are much less common in our gardens than the dwarf, spreading kinds. They are suitable only for big gardens and thrive best in the warmest parts of Britain. They flower much more freely there and especially within reach of the sea air.

E. arborea (tree-like) is the tallest and more genuinely ‘treelike’ than the others. According to W. J. Bean (trees and shrubs hardy tn the British isles) there was a specimen growing at Ventnor in the Isle of Wight, which was 20 feet tall, with a trunk o. feet in girth near the ground. But in the average inland garden in this country, it is doubtful whether it grows much above 8 feet in height. This Heather very much resembles E. lusitanica, which is likewise tender. .

E. arborea must have protection in gardens near London, and should be grown against a warm south wall. In any inland garden I would keep it covered throughout the winter months. The flowers, white and deliciously fragrant, come in great profusion in early spring.

There is a variety called alpina which is much hardier and prospers in practically any garden where there is good Heather soil which, ideally consists of peat and sand. This variety is quite distinct from the type plant, is less tall and has white flowers in early spring. All through the winter its light fresh green foliage is a cheerful sight; and the plant is worth growing for that alone. (It received an A.M. In 1962.)

As with all the Heathers, this variety is more striking when planted in a wide mass. Unfortunately, the Tree-Heathers are too large for massing in the small, modern garden.

Var. alba is found high up in the Mountains of Guenco, south-east of Madrid; and the type plant is a native of South Europe, North Africa and the Caucasus.

E. australis (southern or of the south). This species has been described both as a Tree-Heath and a Shrub-Heath. Hillier calls it, ‘The showiest of the Tree-Heaths.’ Marchant’s description is, ‘A splendid shrub during April and May.’ I have never seen it above 3 feet tall in cultivation; and in the wild it is seldom much more than 4 feet. Its habitat is Spain and Portugal; the plant was introduced into England in 1769. People have tried it in pots in a cool greenhouse, where it has lived and flowered successfully for some years; but the colour (for which the species is famous) is never as bright and glowing as that of outdoor plants. It is the most beautiful shade of rose-red. No other Heather can approach it in the brilliancy of colour. The plant should be massed to get the most striking effect, though a single shrub is a picture when in full bloom -usually April to June. It should be given a place with a dark background of some sort.

A warm seaside garden is the ideal place for it. And for a picturesque effect in early summer, mass it on the edge of a thin woodland, with the double-flowered yellow Gorse (Ulex europaeus plenus). Both are about the same height. The Gorse, however, needs a dry, thin soil and full sun; and the Heather a sandy, peat soil free from lime. The Heather should be allowed to merge with the trees in the woodland. The effect of the rose-red fading into the woodland in spring is very striking. The yellow of the Gorse, planted in front or at the side, harmonizes well with the rose-red.

There is a pure white-flowered form called Var. mr. Robert, which was found by the late Lt. Robert Williams of Caerhays, Cornwall, in the mountains of southern Spain.

This of course is not so striking as the type plant. But it is hardier and grows taller – up to 9 feet in southern gardens.

Var. RTVERSLEA, which I have not yet seen, is according to Hillier ca 6-ft. High bush similar in habit to the type. Flowers fuchsia-purple’.

They may be increased by cuttings. Take small side shoots about an inch long in August and insert them in pots of sandy leafy soil. Give a gentle bottom heat, if possible; and leave them till the following spring.

Many of the hardy Heathers will root outside in a sheltered place. The prostrate stems of some kinds, if lying on light sandy soil, will form roots in time, if left undisturbed; the rooted portions should be cut off and planted very firmly where the new plants thus formed are to grow. Start them off in some sandy leafy loam and they will quickly grow into sturdy little shrubs.

Erica canaliculata is only suitable for gardens in the warmest maritime districts: in Cornwall, for example, it makes a fine evergreen bush up to 16 feet or more in height and carries white to pinkish flowers early in the year. The tiny, thread-like leaves are a dark green and make the plant an attractive shrub when the flowers have fallen. This Tree-Heather, a native of South Africa, was introduced into England in 1802, and is frequently grown in pots under glass, and sold as an ornamental indoor plant. I think it is one of the most handsome of the Tree-Heathers and deserves to be more widely grown in our warm southern gardens.

Erica lasitanica and E. mediterranea are both shrubby or Tree-Heathers, reaching about 10 feet in height in favourable districts. They have been described as on the tender side, but they thrive in many gardens in the Home Counties, if they are given a sheltered spot. Admittedly the finest specimens are to be seen in our warm seaside gardens, especially along the south-west coast – where some of our finest evergreen shrubs and trees grow. And they are more suitable for large gardens than for small ones. They need plenty of space to show off their beauty of colour and form; in narrow borders, for example, they look cramped and inevitably out of place.

E. lusitanica (of Portugal) cannot be recommended for all gardens, however; it must have some protection during very bad winters: a position near a wall perhaps, or have some protective material rigged up round it when a severe frost is imminent. Its leaves are ½ inch long and its flowers white, though pink in the bud, giving an overall effect of pinkish-white; this is especially noticeable in March when the lower, opened flowers are white, and the buds above pink. They are at their best in March and April, covering the plant from top to bottom; but during a mild spell at the end of the year they begin to open early in January or even in December. It is one of the early spring-blooming Heathers and has a faint, pleasant scent. A leafy, sandy soil is ideal for it.

Its habitat is South-west Europe and it is common in Spain and Portugal. Although the species was introduced into England early in the 19th century, it has never become as popular as any of the dwarf spreading Heathers. Its tenderness no doubt deters many people from growing it.

E. mediterranea (the name is something of a misnomer, since the plant is not a native of the Mediterranean region – it comes from the South of France, Spain and Go. Galway in west Ireland). It makes a pleasant, dense shrubby Heather about 6 feet tall in most gardens; though it grows much bigger in warmer climates. It is an erect-growing plant; its slender branches are covered with rich rose-red flowers, bell-shaped with darker red anthers, exposed, as in many of the Heather flowers. They have the scent of honey when the sun is on them and are usually at their best in May. During a warm spell they begin to open as early as March.

The variety alba is smaller: from 2 to 3 feet high, and has fragrant pure white flowers which often open as early as February. This smaller, compact shrub is ideal for restricted spaces and does well in many northern gardens, though during a severe frost it needs some protection, as do the others. (Bracken placed among the branches and round the plant helps to preserve it).

Var. brightness is the deepest coloured form, and is seldom above 18 inches high. The bright rose-red flowers come early, often in January, and show up well against the grey-green foliage. The flowers are darker and retain their colour better when the shrub is planted in a partially-shady spot.

There are several other varieties: superba has been recommended by growers as one of the very best pink shrub-heathers (3 to 4 feet high) for the spring garden (February to April in bloom); and w. t. rackliff, the finest white shrub-heather of the group.

I have found Var. alba a better shrub, however. As they bloom so early, a sheltered place is best for them.

Many hundreds of lovely Heathers grow in the Province of the Gape of Good Hope; but there is scarcely one which is hardy enough to grow outside in Britain. And in our catalogues probably only one of them is ever listed. That is the species Erica pageana (named to perpetuate the memory of the botanical artist of Cape Town, Miss M. page). It would be a triumph to get it to grow and thrive in one’s garden, for it has singularly beautiful, buttercup-yellow flowers, and is probably the only yellow-flowered Heather we can grow outside. It should be tried however only in sheltered gardens in warm maritime districts.

Marchant’s Nursery in Dorset, have it in their gardens, growing on the south-west side of a Rhododendron hedge in 1938 it was 2 feet tall. It blooms in April and May.

I have seen this Heather only in a cool greenhouse and wsa struck by the beauty of the deep yellow blossoms, which had a refreshing scent – probably more perceptible in an enclosed place than outside in the open. At Caerhays Castle, Cornwall, this Heather is given a sheltered spot where it gets plenty of sun. This lovely species is the most expensive of all the Heathers offered by nurseries.

E. scoparia (broom-like), the Mediterranean Besom Heather. This is a feathery-looking shrub up to 10 feet in height, of loose habit, and perfectly hardy – quite suitable for any garden around London. The leaves are a dark glossy green, small and thread-like (typical Heather leaves); the flowers, which come in May and June, are very small and not at all striking: it is principally as an evergreen foliage-shrub that the plant is grown. It will not tolerate lime and needs a peaty sandy soil. In the south of France its long stems are used for making besoms.

E. terminalis (ending or terminating). This is known as the Corsican Heather. It grows wild in Corsica, Sardinia, Spain and Italy, where plants up to 8 feet or more in height are found. But in cultivation it seems not to grow so tall; it is something of a rarity in our gardens – I have not seen it outside Kew Botanic Gardens. It blooms from June to September, or as late as October. The flowers, carried in terminal heads, are a lovely shade of pink. It is very hardy and succeeds in ordinary garden soils, and doesn’t mind lime or chalk; yet this charming Heather is seldom seen in gardens. A plant can be had for $s.

The last of the Tree-Heathers on my list is Erica X veitchii. This hybrid (E. arborea X E. lusitanica) originated in the nurseries of Messrs. Veitch in Exeter. It is a vigorous grower in that part of the country, but is rather too tender for most inland gardens farther north. The flowers, fragrant and pinkish-white, resemble in shape and colouring those of the parent plants. It is a tallish shrubby plant like Erica arborea; and its foliage is rather like that of E. lustianica. I have seen specimens 6 feet tall, but no taller, in gardens along the south coast. It needs a lime-free soil; it can be got from most shrub specialists. The plant received an A.M. In 1905.

The Scottish, and the Irish Heather are Calluna vulgaris alba and Daboecia canlabrica respectively. The first was formerly described as Erica vulgaris alba and will be found under that name in some catalogues. The Daboecia is closely related to Erica; but both differ slightly from the true Erica in the structure of their flowers.

The Calluna is the common Ling which covers vast areas of moorland in Scotland and the North of England. The Heath of the Yorkshire moors, where the grouse nest and feed on the young shoots. The plant no doubt which is mentioned so often in ‘Wuthering Heights.’

Sprays of the so-called Scotch Heather used to be sold by street vendors in the West End of London years ago. One bought a spray of White Heather for luck.

I grow both the single and the double White Heather in my garden; they were planted some years ago in a mixture of sifted leafmould and sand, with only a little garden loam added. The double alba plena is better than the single {Calluna vulgaris alba). Both benefit from a mulching with leafmould every spring and should be lightly clipped over in March. They need full sun and refuse to flower at all in shade.

The single grows twice as tall as the double and is now 18 inches to 2 feet tall and a loose, straggling shrub. It needs pruning back (though not too drastically) in March. Before the flowers come, the plants are singularly fresh-looking with their soft mossy-green foliage.

There is a great number of varieties; and the best I have seen so far is Var. h. e. beale, with long spikes of double, rose-pink flowers resembling pink coral. But it is a failure in ordinary garden soils: it is best planted in a mixture of leaf-mould and coarse sand. It will never live long in dry soil; and it should be mulched yearly (every April) with a 6-inch layer of sifted leafmould or peat – or well-rotted leaves. On the other hand, good flowering specimens have been found growing in clay. It eventually makes a shrublet of open habit up to about 2 feet in height. It is perhaps the loveliest of all the autumn Heathers.

Var. alportii has dark greyish foliage with crimson flowers which are at their best in late summer. The plant must have a lime-free, peaty soil.

For the rockery try Var. foxii, a very dwarf Heather, with cushion-like tufts of deep green foliage and pink flowers. Plant it in a pocket of leafmould and sand.

Var. nana, only a few inches high, with spreading branches covered with purple flowers, may be similarly grown.

Var. j. h. Hamilton is another dwarf Heather and has full double pink flowers which bloom from late summer till the winter. It is especially good for massing in wide patches. This variety was found growing on Mt. Maughan, Yorkshire.

Bees haunt Heather patches and collect honey from the flowers and ‘Heather Honey’ is the best and the finest flavoured obtainable. Wild Heather has many uses and people living in isolated regions in Scotland look upon it as the most important of utilitarian plants. Years ago it was used as a thatch for cottages and for lining the walls, alternate layers of dried Heather and clay being used. Even a bed was made of Heather: layers of it, with the flowers placed upwards, were said to be as comfortable as a mattress.

The Irish Heather, Dabo’ecia cantabrica, is a native of Western Europe and is found wild in Gonnemara.

Daboecia is a small genus, comprising but 2 species, viz. D. azorica (of the Azores); and the so-called Irish Heather, which has produced about half a dozen attractive varieties. They are all good evergreen shrubs for limited spaces, though D. azorica is slightly tender and unsuitable for gardens north of London. In inland gardens, too, this species requires some shelter and would be best in a pocket in a warm rock-garden. Most gardeners who have succeeded with it (in the south) say it is at its best during the early summer, when the bronze-green foliage is covered with tiny, nodding flowers, bell-shaped and crimson.

D. cantabrica is taller, making a charming evergreen shrub up to about 2 feet high. It flowers from June till the autumn frosts come; and all through the winter months the dark green foliage is pleasant to see. The flowers are roughly egg-shaped, rose-purple in colour and about $-inch long. The plant is completely hardy; and the varieties are likewise hardy enough for most gardens in this country. All these Heather-like shrubs must have a lime-free peaty soil; the two species may be raised from seed; the varieties from cuttings.

I recommend the following:

Var. alba, which has spikes of the purest white flowers, was found in Gonnemara at the beginning of the last century, and is an ideal plant for massing.

Var. atropurpurea. This has rose-purple flowers, darker than those of the type plant. A fine edging plant where the soil is leafy and lime-free.

Var. praegerae : deep pink flowers in June. It is a delightful little plant for massing in front of some yellow-flowered shrub, which likes a lime-free or acid soil.

Bruckenthalia spiculifolia is another Heather-like plant, low-growing (about 6 inches high), with bell-shaped fragrant rose flowers which bloom in June. It needs a peaty acid soil and is often used in gardens as an undergrowth, not being particularly striking in flower. Some gardeners plant it in groups under Rhododendrons and Azaleas, where it soon spreads and covers the bare soil. This little evergreen plant helps to keep the weeds down and is worth growing under some of the taller Rhododendrons whose branches are erect. It is perfectly hardy and is a native of the mountains of East Europe and Asia Minor. It is easily raised from seed and increased by cuttings.

The species of Phyllodoce (with the exception of one) are difficult to establish in most of our gardens. These Heatherlike shrubs revel in moist conditions – they do best in districts 4 where there is a high rainfall. The easiest of them is P. empetri-formis (the species referred to above); it is a native of western North America. A very hardy plant and, like all the Phyllodoce, it needs a moist, peaty, lime-free soil. The flowers are small, pitcher-shaped and a deep reddish-purple. I have tried it and our native P. coerulea in my garden, but neither gives as good a show as any of the Erica and Calluna I have. These are what we call the genuine Heathers – many are brilliant in colour, beautiful in flower and easy to grow.

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