Erica carnea

I always think of heathers as somewhat gloomy flowers (I was reared on Thomas Hardy’s novels of Egdon Heath), but they are beloved by so many gardeners that I am learning to see them with new eyes.

Heathers are evergreen sub-shrubs, many of which are calcifuge. But E. cornea is a lime-tolerant species, hardy and Winter-flowering, usually grown either in the rock garden, or as a thick, mat-forming ground-cover for larger beds or banks. It likes full sun. The bell-shaped flowers, white or pink, grow in thick pendant clusters, and the plants spread sideways to as much as 4 feet (1.2 m), so that they should be planted at intervals of 2 feet (60 cm) to make a quick, thick carpet. Keep them weeded until they have formed their network of roots. E. cornea comes in white and several shades of pink and red, and these can be grouped to make a tapestry if you have enough space. If you are confined to a single variety, I suggest the large-flowered ‘Sprmgwood White’ to catch the pale winter sunlight. A prostrate juniper, like/ horizontalis, would make a striking contrast, but the dwarf pyramidal conifers, like exclamation marks, which are com-monly used with heathers, are too Dis-neyland for me.

Clip heathers over after flowering, which, apart from the initial weeding, is all the attention they should need.

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