In the cold winter months Heathers can be counted on to keep the garden full of colour while many prefer to stay warm inside. With over 4,000 varieties to choose from, there is a heather to suit every garden - just one great reason for it to be the Horticultural Trades Association's (HTA) Plant of the Month for February 2015.
Part of the Ericaceae family, Heathers make a welcome addition to any garden bed, border or pot. They provide splashes of white, pink and purple colour all year round, while foliage colours vary from bright green, olive green, and golden, with many turning terracotta red in the coldest months.
A great plant for novice or time-short gardeners, they require little maintenance and can last for years, while their hardy and evergreen nature makes them fantastic for ground cover and weed prevention.
Erica heathers, often known as winter flowering heathers, will grow in most soil types, acid or alkaline, and in full sun or partial shade. Varieties of Erica Carnea and Erica Darleyensis have a very long flowering period from November until May. Popular varieties recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) include: Erica carnea 'Myretoun Ruby' and Erica carnea f. alba 'Springwood White', as well as Erica Darleyensis Albiflora White Perfection and Erica Darleyensis Kramers Rote.
Heathers are best planted in beds and small evergreen shrubs can be added as complementary companion plants to provide contrast in height and form. Hebe ochracea 'James Stirling', a dense, low, spreading evergreen dwarf shrub with bright ochre-coloured leaves and small white flowers, and Rhododendron 'Praecox' a small, evergreen shrub with dark, glossy oval leaves and widely funnel-shaped, rosy-purple flowers, look great growing along side. The Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete', a miniature daffodil, will also add a delightful touch with its neat clusters of bright yellow trumpets.
Wildlife expert and broadcaster David Lindo, the celebrity champion for heathers this month, is passionate about heather and getting urbanites to realise that there is a whole world of wildlife under their noses in the world's cities. He commented, "Heather is such a versatile plant and different cultivars can bloom in both winter and summer. It provides an invaluable food source for wildlife throughout the year, with bees attracted to its nectar, while smaller creatures can take refuge in the dense close foliage of the plant."
Nominated and agreed upon by British growers and retailers, the HTA's Plant of the Month campaign highlights the plants that are widely available and looking especially good each month.