Growing hebes

Posted: Thursday 5 January 2012
by Kate Bradbury

I used to be a bit sniffy about hebes. I considered the majority of them inelegant and boring – bog standard shrubs you find in a variety of municipal situations...

Hebe 'Sapphire' under-planted with pink-flowered cranesbill

I used to be a bit sniffy about hebes. I considered the majority of them inelegant and boring – bog standard shrubs you find in a variety of municipal situations including supermarket car parks, traffic islands and ‘displays’ outside shopping centres. Despite their long season of interest and popularity with bees, these plants gave me what you might call ‘the hebe jeebies’.

But that all changed, after the variety ‘Sapphire’ was sent into the Gardeners’ World Magazine office. None of my colleagues wanted it, so I reluctantly took it home ("for the bees"). I planted it in a shady corner and promptly fell in love with it.

Awarded an AGM by the RHS, Hebe ‘Sapphire’ is a lovely variety. Its glossy green, spear-shaped leaves are tinged with purple, and it flowers for months. Even in the deep shade of my garden it produces an abundance of blooms, which attract hundreds of bees in summer and hoverflies in autumn. It grows to an eventual height of 1.5m, so is perfect for a small garden like mine.

Because I 'plonked' my new hebe in a corner without considering what would grow with it (it was initially planted as a temporary measure until I found something nicer to replace it with), it was a happy accident that its neighbours included pink-flowered cranesbill and Campanula portenschlagiana - a winning combination. I hope the fact that the cranesbill is still in flower won’t hamper its performance this year.

Now, as the dead leaves of spent annuals and herbaceous perennials hang limply from shrivelled stems, my Hebe ‘Sapphire’ stands tall – glossy and upright like a shining green beacon. Even in January, it’s the best looking plant in the garden. 

So, while I still think some hebes are inelegant and boring, I've learned to appreciate their value in small gardens. They flower their socks off, are loved by bees, and provide a very long season of interest. And some of them are just lovely.

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oldchippy 05/01/2012 at 18:09

Hi Kate, I have a Hebe in flower,I took a piece from some one's garden while walking the dog's one night(it was over hanging the pavement)It is now quite a large bush,I don't know it's name but if it flower's now that good enough for me,The only other plant's in flower are Viburnum Tinus and our winter flowering Cherry there is plenty of gorse in flower on the golf course.

donutsmrs 05/01/2012 at 18:41

Hi Kate, I've got a lovely Hebe growing around the base of a conifer. It came as small plant, now it is really beautiful. When it is in flower it comes out in a white flower, I have no idea what its name is, but it just gets covered in bees, they love it. I have also got purple one growing in a pot that I bought at an auction and that also flowers really well. I don't do a lot to them just trim them back after flowering but they reward me with such a beautiful display. Just lovely.

happymarion 05/01/2012 at 19:08

Ah,hebes. They are spectacular in the New Zealand Garden at the Bristol University Botanic Garden. But I have long been a fan. A friend brought me one with lovely long white flowers from Clevedon Court with no name some six years ago, and it has brightened up a dark part of my woodland walk ever since, flowering for months on end. Another one I particularly like is called"Red Edge". The red edge is round the leaves! It gets covered in stumpy little purple flowers that look like elves hats. Hebes are such neat plants too and the parahebes are some of my favourite alpines.

Milo de Paor 06/01/2012 at 00:12

People used to have hebe jeebies here too until they read your post. Now they're making shopping lists of them.

kathryn.brock 06/01/2012 at 08:44

I love my hebe, it has faithfully flowered for months and is still flowering now. It puts up with this wind and heavy rain too and still looks good.
I bought it in a sale for £1 and think its the best value plant in my small garden.
Long live the hebe!

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