Les’s Patch: Colourful heathers can enhance your garden

Les Foden.
Les Foden.

Carrying on from last week’s column I think that heathers were specifically designed for reluctant gardeners. Once established they smother weeds and will stand up to hot summers and cold winters.

They come in a wide range of colours and are evergreen, and as there are both summer and winter flowering varieties they enhance a garden the whole year round. All they ask is that you understand their soil needs, that they are planted out in the open and not under trees and that each plant is given a haircut once a year with a sharp pair of shears as soon as the flowers have faded.

Cut the dead flowers and their stems off and tidy up the plant. As different varieties flower at different times each plant needs trimming as it finishes flowering.

Regarding the soil, heathers are not too fussy about the pH, however, in most gardens the addition of plenty of peat and an occasional watering with a solution of Sequestrene will allow them to grow quite happily. Don’t be tempted to use the remains of an old grow bag on a heather garden as it will contain lime.

Different varieties of heathers grow to different heights and spreads. There are tree heathers six feet or more tall and small heathers less than three inches tall. Most garden varieties are between five and 15 inches tall.

Although, as stated, the plants have different rates of growth and spread, to get an overall affect within three or four years set the plants approximately 12 inches apart in each direction. The following suggestions are for an area of 20 feet by 16 feet, so adjust appropriate for differing plot sizes.

For winter flowering: Erica darleyensis George Rendall, pink flowers in December, height 12 inches; Erica carnea Ruby Glow, colour in January, 10 inches; Springwood White, February flowers, height six inches; December Red, December colour, seven inches; Springwood Pink, January colour, four inches.

Summer flowering: CD Eason, rosy red in June, 13 inches; Mrs D F Maxwell, July; Alba Plena, white in August, eight inches; Radnor, reddish purple in July; County Wicklow, pink, eight inches; Underwoodii, pink to purple in August, 24 inches; August Beauty, white in August, 11 inches.

For foliage effect: Aurea, green to yellow in December; Robert Chapman, gold, red, yellow in August, 10 inches; Golden feather, gold, red, green in August, 15 inches. Some of the foliage heathers do have flowers though not as striking as the others.

As the plan for the easy garden consists of conifers as well as heathers, here’s a small selection of conifers. Nana Gracilis, three foot, with dark green foliage; Sky Rocket, six foot, pencil shape in sky blue; Rheingold, six foot, broad pyramid in gold in summer and copper coloured in winter.