Winter heathers

The best winter-flowering heathers

Winter-flowering heathers are inexpensive, evergreen plants that provide colour in the coldest months. They are low-maintenance plants, 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.

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 plants. They are a lifeline for bumblebees and solitary bees, which do not store food and emerge in mild spells in winter and early spring.

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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.

Erica carnea

Erica carnea f. aureifolia ‘Bell’s Extra Special’

Erica carnea 'Bells Extra Special'

Compact with sparse, whisky-coloured foliage. heliotrope, almost-red blooms from late winter to mid spring. Bred from ‘Myretoun Ruby’. Height/spread 15cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

E. carnea ‘Clare Wilkinson’

Winter flowering heather

Vigorous and trailing with long shots clothed in mid-green foliage. Shell-pink flowers in long spikes in late winter through to late spring. A long season of nectar and pollen. Height/spread 10cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

E. carnea f. alba ‘Isabell’

Erica carnea 'isabel'

Spreading mats of short, upright stems carry bright-green foliage. Pure-white flowers with brown stamens from late winter until early spring. Excellent in pots and containers. Height/spread 15cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

E. carnea ‘Nathalie’

Winter flowering heather

Glowing purple flowers from midwinter to mid spring. Compact and bristling with dark-green foliage and jewel-like flowers. Originated from seedlings of ‘Myretoun Ruby’. Height/spread 15cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 9a-9b.

E. carnea ‘Corinna’

Winter flowering heather

A compact, bushy heather with abundant, dark-green foliage. Cerise-pink flowers in late winter to mid spring. A good ground cover plant bred by Kurt Kramer in Germany. Height/spread 15cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

E. carnea ‘December Red’

Winter flowering heather

Vigorous and spreading with mid-green foliage that forms low, loose mats. Pink flowers darken to red-pink as they age, opening in midwinter and lasting to early spring. Height/spread 10cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

E. carnea ‘Eva’

Winter-flowering heather

Neat and compact with dark-green foliage turning bronze in winter. Light-red flowers from late winter to mid spring. It is one of the earliest red-flowering heathers to bloom. Height/spread 10cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

E. carnea ‘Saskia’

Winter flowering heather

Unusual colouring with rose-pink flowers, darker toward the tips and clustered at the end of the shoots from late winter to mid spring. Lovely against mid-green foliage. 20cm x 30cm. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

E. carnea ‘Winter Rubin’

Winter flowering heather

Formely called ‘Kramer’s Rubin’, this compact cultivar has dark-green foliage and clear-pink flowers from late winter to mid spring. Selected from seedlings of ‘Myretoun Ruby’. Height/spread 10cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

E. carnea f. alba ‘Whitehall’

Winter flowering heather

With pure white flowers and a similar habit to ‘Isabell’, this cultivar starts to  bloom earlier, in midwinter. The flower spikes are less dense and the brown stamens less prominent. Height/spread 10cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

Erica x darleyensis

E. x darleyensis ‘Arthur Johnson’

Erica x darleyensis 'Arthur Johnson'

Long spikes of magenta-pink flowers, darkening from midwinter to mid spring. Spreading habit with mid-green foliage, the spring shots are tipped with cream. Height/spread 45cm x 60cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDDA 6a-8b.

E. x darleyensis ‘Aurelie Bregeon’

Erica x darleyensis 'Aurelie Bregeon'

Comparatively large, lilac-pink flowers from late autumn to spring on compact plants with mid-green foliage. A sport of ‘Darley Dale’, it’s not as hardy as other cultivars. Great in pots. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H5, USDA 7a-9b.

E. x darleyensis ‘Darley Dale’

Erica x darleyensis 'Darley Dale'

A popular winter heather with profuse pale-pink flowers, darkening with age from early winter to mid-spring. Mid-green foliage with cream and pink tips to the shoots in spring. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. Hardiness rating USDA 6a-8b.

E. x darleyensis f. aureifolia ‘Mary Helen’

Erica x darleyensis 'Mary Helen'

Mid-pink blooms open in late winter to mid spring. The new yellow-gold foliage lasts all summer, turning bronze in winter. Height/spread 20cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.

E. x darleyensis f. aurefolia ‘Moonshine’

Erica x darleyensis 'Moonshine'

A bushy heather with yellowish-green foliage that does not darken in winter. The pale-pink flowers open from early winter to mid spring. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.

E. x darleyensis ‘Phoebe’

Erica x darleyensis 'Phoebe'

A compact and free-flowering cultivar with profuse, rose-pink flowers from autumn to midwinter. Excellent ground cover, with dark-green foliage and a dense, bushy habit. Height/spread 15cm x 20cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.

E. x darleyensis ‘Katia’

Erica x darleyensis 'Katia'

A bushy, compact heather with mid-green foliage, large, pure-white flowers and prominent brown stamens from early to late winter. Excellent with hellebores. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.

E. x darleyensis ‘Lucie’

Erica x darleyensis 'Lucie'

A spot of ‘Kramer’s Rote’, with large, showy, magenta flowers on spikes of dark-green foliage in spring. Blooms later than many cultivars, so less damaged by frost and rain. Height/spread 45cm x 60cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.

E. x darleyensis f.aureifolia ‘Tweety’

Heather

A striking heather with bright, golden-yellow foliage, which turns orange in winter. The sparse, magenta flowers contrast with the foliage from early winter to mid spring. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS 6G, USDA 6a-8b.

E. x darleyensis f. albiflora ‘White Perfection’

Heather

Left unpruned, this heather produces long spikes of pure-white flowers with brown stamens from midwinter to mid spring. Height/spread 45cm x 75cm. Hardiness ratings H6, USDA 6a-8b.

You can find more information on plant hardiness ratings here

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

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Photographs Dianna Jazwinski