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9:40am Saturday 18th February 2012 in Gardening
Heathers of various varieties can be in flower throughout the year, finds GINA PARKINSON.
HEATHER suggests swathes of purple across the moors in August, the warm air heavy with fragrance and noisy with bees – not a cold York garden in February just about shaking the snow from its boots.
The heather family is extensive and can be in flower for every month of the year, depending on the variety. The catch is that it is fussy about its soil, with many of the summer flowering varieties only tolerating acid conditions.
That leaves the lime-tolerant winter flowering members of the genus for those without the required soil ph for summer ones, but this is not a problem. The choice is extensive with some species coming into flower in January at the time gardeners are looking for some warm colour at the start of the gardening calendar.
The most popular winter-flowering heather is Erica carnea, a lowgrowing spreading plant that will grow around 23cm/9ins high.
Flower colour ranges from white through to deep red and purple, while leaf colour is surprisingly varied, from gold to green.
The number of plants within this species is long, the Plant Finder list more than two pages of Erica carnea alone, so it would be easy to get bogged down with choice.
It is best to be guided either by flower colour, or alternatively by choosing one that has been given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
This means the variety has fulfilled various criteria in a long period of assessment which includes availability, constitution, decorative garden use, susceptibility to pest or disease and ease of growth.
Erica carnea varieties in this group are numerous and include ‘Ann Sparkes’ with rose pink flowers and orange foliage that can turn crimson under stress, white flowered ‘Golden Starlet’ with yellow foliage turning lime green in winter, ‘Nathalie’ with red flowers and dark foliage and ‘Vivellii’ with deep red blooms and bronze-hued dark green leaves.
Erica x darleyensis is also lime tolerant and like E carnea flowers in winter and early spring. It can be grown as a carpeting plant although it is taller and bushier than its relative.
This heather is a useful weed suppressant and includes ‘Furzey’ with lilac pink flowers and dark green foliage which is pink tipped in spring, ‘Ghost Hills’ with pink flowers and light green foliage cream tipped in spring, ‘Jenny Porter’ with lilac flowers and pale green foliage tipped cream and red in spring and white flowered ‘White Perfection’.
For those who get the heather bug, the season for lime-tolerant plants can be extended by two later blooming species, Erica Erigena or Irish Heath and Erica terminalis or Corsican Heath.
These are taller plants growing from 30cm to more than 100cm with taller varieties more like small shrubs than the more usual ground hugging heathers.
Erica erigena varieties include ‘Golden Lady’ with white flowers and golden yellow foliage growing up to 30cm/12ins tall, 60cm/24ins tall ‘Irish Dusk’ with salmon hued buds that open to rose pink flowers and grey green foliage and pink flowered ‘Superba’ that can get as tall as 150cm/60ins high.
Flowering can extend into June depending on the variety.
Erica terminalis is a bushy plant that grows into a small shrub with pink flowers from July to September that fade to rusty red well into winter by which time early varieties of Erica carnea will be starting to bloom once again.
Winter-flowering heathers are hardy and will flower through snow and frost.
Like most heathers they prefer a sunny open spot in well-drained soil but being so hardy they will cope with moister conditions and an alkaline soil, although they may struggle in a chalky area.
If required to keep a plant in shape pruning should be done as soon as flowering has finished by lightly cutting back making sure the cut is well above new growth.
Avoid cutting into old wood as Erica will not regrow from this.
ASKHAM Bryan College (ABC) Gardening Club holds its February talk on Tuesday in the Conference Hall at Askham Bryan College.
This month it will be given by Joe Maiden who is well known to listeners of BBC Radio Leeds where he broadcasts a weekly gardening programme with Tim Crowther. Joe is also a nurseryman, writer and speaker and will be giving a practical demonstration on all aspects of vegetable growing.
The talk will begin at 7.30pm with tickets on the door £5 visitors, free to ABC Gardening Club members.
Gardening TV and radio
8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.
9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.
2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time.
The team are in Cumbria where chairman Eric Robson and panellists Matthew Biggs, Bob Flowerdew and Anne Swithinbank advise gardeners from Grange-over-Sands.
Eric Robson also visits the topiary garden at Levens Hall and the gardening weather forecast is at 2.40pm.
8pm, BBC2, How To Grow A Planet. Iain Stewart explores the impact grass has had on our planet and, standing in the ruins of the oldest temple on Earth, he explains how it kick-started human civilisation.
8pm, BBC2, Bees, Butterflies And Blooms.
In the final part, Sarah Raven takes her campaign for pollinating insects to the city.
She encourages the parks department in Birmingham to replace close-mown grass with insect-friendly meadows and visits London Olympic park where pollinatorfriendly meadows are being sown. The series has clearly shown measures such as these can make an immediate and enormous difference to the insect population.
3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time.
Bunny Guinness, Anne Swithinbank, Matthew Wilson and chairman Eric Robson help gardeners from Saltash in Cornwall.
Matt James looks at how the slag heaps around the county’s tin mines are being turned into a park.
Saturday, February 25
7am, BBC Radio York, Julia Booth. Julia presents her weekly plant surgery.