Hebe hybrids

I find hebes difficult to place in my garden, for visual, not practical reasons, because it always seems to me that plants from the antipodes, however beautiful, can look uneasy in the English scene, especially in downland. Yet hebes are exquisite in the right surroundings, and are now so popular in Britain that a Hebe Society was formed in 1985.

Once classed as veronicas, they are a large genus, nearly all exclusive to New Zealand, where some grow by the sea,: others in river valleys or on mountain^ heights. All are evergreen. The species are mostly tender, but there are many’ fine garden hybrids which are robust in Britain, especially by the sea or in the shelter of a building. ‘Midsummer Beauty’ is exceptionally reliable, a rounded shrub smothered with spikes of blue flowers from mid-summer almost into winter. The leaves are narrow and willowlike. ‘Alicia Amherst’ is another strong cultivar with larger blue flowers and broader leaves, and ‘Gauntlettii’ is a pink-flowered variety. The colour range extends from white to magenta and dark purple.

Hebes will grow in any well-drained soil, are lime-tolerant and like full sun. Specialists recommend deep planting, with several buds below the soil, so that the plant will shoot again if damaged by frost. The use of a winter mulch will also give valuable protection.

A group of hebes, planted 3 to 4 feet (90 to 120 cm) apart, would make appropriate neighbours for the tall, architectural spikes of Phormium tenax, another New Zealander, which is hardy in all but the coldest places.

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