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Back in Vogue

by Malachy - Horticulturist CountryLife Dungarvan | Oct 22, 2015

In fashion you see cycles where certain clothes come in and out of popularity over a period of time. The exact same can be seen with plants, where for a time they are extremely popular and then suddenly fall out of favour with gardeners only to get a revival years down the road.

One such plant that has fallen in and out of fashion with gardeners is heathers. Heathers were extremely popular with Irish gardeners but in the 90’s they fell out of regard and began to disappear from flowerbeds. At the time I was working as a landscaper and remember working in many different gardens where we would dig out large beds of heathers and replace them with herbaceous plants.

Over the last couple of years gardeners’ attitudes towards heathers have changed and people are realising just how much of an easy, low maintenance plant they for a garden. Their growth in popularity has been helped by nurseries who are introducing newer varieties which add great interest to the garden during winter.

At the moment in CountryLife we have a wide range of different Irish grown heathers from Doran’s Nurseries in County Kildare. When it comes to heathers there are three main varieties that you will find on sale generally. They are erica, calluna and daboecia.

Daboecia Alba is slightly different to traditional heathers in that the flowers are much larger in size. The flowers are large and stand well above the foliage of the plant making them very visible. Erica Springwood White is one of my favourites as it has great white flowers in winter. It is also a very well behaved plant which requires very little maintenance during the year.

An extremely popular type with gardeners for the past few years has been Calluna Garden Girls or Garden Twins. This is a double coloured heather which comes with both pink and white flowers. This has been very popular for pots and window boxes to add winter colour. Calluna Silver Knight is another very interesting heather which has fantastic silver foliage that makes for a great contrast foliage in borders.

One of the most important things for growing heathers is the soil type they are planted in. Heathers prefer an ericaceous soil (acidic soil). Of the three varieties above Erica is the only type which would tolerate a slightly limey soil, but it still would perform better in an acidic soil.

A worthwhile step before you buy your plants would be to check your soil type. This is a good idea in general for all gardeners to do to ensure they get the best from the plants they are putting in their garden. You can pick up easy to use soil testing kits in most garden centres.

If your soil is lime based there are a number of things you can do so you can still grow heathers. Building a raised bed would allow you to fill the planting area with ericaceous soil or you can also buy slow release feed which lasts for up to six months and will alter the pH of your soil for you.

In terms of maintenance there is little work to do with heathers and they tend to look after themselves. One easy job to carry out once a year is to give the plants a quick trim with hedge clippers as soon as the flowers turn brown. This will help to maintain the plants overall shape and appearance. 

Written by Malachy

Here to help! - remember if you have any questions feel free to pop into one of our garden centres or you can contact us on our Facebook and Twitter pages and email us at: hello@countrylife.ie

Malachy's Bio 
I have been gardening since I was 5 years old when my mother gave me a part of our garden as my own. I have studied horticulture in the National Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin and was a winner in the young horticulturist of the year competition. I have worked in Several plant nurseries and garden centers such as Mount Congreve in Co. Waterford. My special interests are plant propagation and Cacti!

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