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Heather


by James Alexander-Sinclair

Heather in Scotland has always drawn me; I have childhood memories of staying with my grandparents and running at full tilt down hills, bouncing from one springy tuft to another...


Pink heather flowersI have just got back from a thoroughly blissful week on the Isle of Colonsay. The more observant readers among you will have noticed that I have blogged about Colonsay in previous years: here are my 2007 and 2008 holiday blogs. This year the weather was typical of the west coast of Scotland and flitted between lashing rain and glorious sunshine, but a good time was had by all.

I was particularly struck, this time, by heather. Heather looks spectacularly wonderful in its natural habitat, but attempts to domesticate it are always a disappointment. When I used to rush around London replanting window boxes we often used heathers for a bit of winter colour - along with those rather ghastly Solanum (the ones with orange berries). Although they looked sort of OK they always looked a bit lonely as if they were pining for the wide, open moorlands.

Heather in Scotland has always drawn me; I have childhood memories of staying with my grandparents and running at full tilt down hills, bouncing from one springy tuft to another. I still do it 40 years later - a bit more creakily than before! - in the certain knowledge that if I fall the landing will always be soft (if a little scratchy).

However, if like most people you aren't lucky enough to have a hillside or glen to play with then you can use heather in your gardens, although I think there are many better plants. But, it is your garden so, if you insist, then make sure that they face south as you will get better colour and stronger growth.

The most common wild heathers are Calluna vulgaris and Erica cinerea. These, and many other varieties need an acid soil, although many of their relations (notably E. carnea and E. x darleyensis) will grow in any half-decent garden soil. The RHS has good heather collections in its gardens at Wisley and Harlow Carr. If you want to know more then there is lots of useful stuff on the Heather Society website.

However, if you want to see them in their full glory then go to Scotland: even better, go to Colonsay and then you get long sandy beaches and a very fine hotel as well.



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Gardeners' World Web User 12/08/2009 at 22:32

I agree that there is no better site for heathers than open moorland but for those not fortunate to get into the wilds very often even the domestic patch of heather serves as a wonderful reminder of the real thing!

Gardeners' World Web User 13/08/2009 at 21:08

bet the heather was great i've got some great looking heather's in my garden

Gardeners' World Web User 04/09/2009 at 04:47

I love the really deep maroon heather with the very fine leaves it's so delicate and yet tough and makes a fine show in the garden without looking tatie as the flowers fade.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:39

The white heather at my garden gate is to wish good luck to everyone who enters. New varieties of winter-flowering heather give a great show for months and,even when not in flower, look good. Have you seen the yellow heather in the temperate house at Kew?