The best winter-flowering heathers

Winter-flowering heathers are inexpensive, evergreen plants that provide colour in the coldest months. They are perfect for containers and mix well with a host of other garden plants. Here are some of the best winter-flowering heathers to grow in your garden. 

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Evergreen, easy to grow, small, manageable and long-flowering, they are the ideal low-maintenance plant, although their image suffered after their rise in popularity in the 1960s when they became associated with dwarf conifers and dull grasses. Winter-flowering heathers have another great attribute: they are bee-friendly. They are a lifeline for bumblebees and solitary bees, which do not store food and emerge in mild spells in winter and early spring.

Some cultivars have gold or bronze foliage that add colour at ground level, although the combination of pink flowers and yellow foliage is not pleasing to everyone. Some produce compact heads of blooms at the tips of the shoots; in others the blooms crowd a length of the stems. These cultivars make excellent cut flowers, and lend themselves to informal garden and wedding posies.

Here is a selection of the best winter-flowering heathers, chosen by horticulturist and writer Andy McIndoe. 

 

Clockwise from left: Erica carnea f. aureifolia ‘Bell’s Extra Special’; E. carnea ‘Clare Wilkinson’; E. carnea ‘Corinna’; E. carnea ‘December Red’; E. carnea ‘Eva’; E. carnea f. alba ‘Whitehall’; E. carnea ‘Winter Rubin’; E. carnea ‘Saskia’; E. carnea ‘Nathalie; E. carnea f. Alba ‘Isabell’.

 

Clockwise from left: E. x darleyensis ‘Arthur Johnson’; E. x darleyensis ‘Aurelie Bregeon’; E. x darleyensis ‘Darley Dale’; E. x darleyensis ‘Katia’; E. x darleyensis ‘Lucie’; E. x darleyensis f. albiflora ‘White Perfection’; E. x darleyensis F. aureifolia ‘Tweety’; E. x darleyensis ‘Phoebe’; E. x darleyensis F. aureifolia ‘Moonshine’; E. x darleyensis F. aureifolia ‘Mary Helen’.

 

Clockwise from left: Calluna vulgaris ‘Marlies’; E. lusitanica; C. vulgaris ‘Elegantissima’; Cvulgaris ‘Alicia’; E. lusitanica F. aureifolia ‘George Hunt’ 

 

Where to see

Holehird Gardens 
Patterdale Road, Windermere, Cumbria LA23 1NP. Tel 015394 46008.
• Nymans 
Staplefield Lane, Handcross, West Sussex RH17 6EB. Tel 01444 405250.
• RHS Garden Wisley
Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB.  Tel 0845 260 9000.

Where to buy

• The Heather Garden 
Woodlands, Wimborne, Dorset BH21 8LJ. Tel 01202 824387.

Heathers are widely available from garden centres and nurseries. The Heather Society is a good source of information for choosing and growing heathers. heathersociety.org

 

Words Andy McIndoe

Photographs Dianna Jazwinski

This article was taken from a longer feature in the November 2016 issue of Gardens Illustrated (240).

 

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