One of the most popular plants on the west coast of British Columbia are the heaths and heathers that flower profusely in all seasons of the year. Heathers and heaths belong to the Ericaceae family of plants which include Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Pieris and Kalmia. Our acidic soil of the west coast is perfect for this family of plants and often you will find them growing together in a garden. Heathers are what most of us call this group of plants but they are actually two different types. Calluna vulgaris is the family of heathers which bloom in the summer and Erica are the heaths that bloom in the fall and spring.
Above is Calluna vulgaris ‘Zeta’ which is brand new to my garden. I love the foliage on this plant as its soft unlike its cousin the heath which has needle like leaves. Zeta will have a golden-green foliage all year round in the garden.
Heathers and heaths make great container plants. The plant above is a Calluna vulgaris but I have lost the tag so the cultivar is unknown. This has been grown in a large container for over five years. It is now 3′ tall and 2′ wide and its leaves change colour in the fall going from green to orange and this dark red in November. Tiny white flowers form on the plant but its the foliage that steals the show.
Erica x darleyensis grows in my front walkway garden and is currently covered in tiny bell-shaped pink flowers. You can see the needle like leaves which places this plant in the Erica family of heaths.
I have found that when planting heathers its important to have a moist soil. The Ericaceae family of plants also needs to establish a relationship with the mycorrhizae in the soil to do well. I remember only too well planting about thirty heathers for a client and watching about six of them not take root.
Heathers and heaths can be used as year round interest in the garden. Most of the plants are low growing and form the lower storey of plants in the garden. Flowers come in a range of colours from white, pink and reds so they blend together well. The heather pictured above is Calluna vulgaris ‘Fritz Kircher’. I love the upright stems on this plant.
For something a little bit different try growing Calluna vulgaris ‘Schurig’s Sensation’ for a sea of pink double-flowering blooms.
Use heathers and heaths together in the garden to have year round colour. Above is a photo taken at Vandusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver. It shows you how easy it is to have colour using evergreen shrubs in the garden. The key is to visit show gardens and try to replicate what you like in your own garden. Yes, this garden is huge but you can take a small section and apply it to your landscape.