Introduction to Heath and Heathers
There is only one true heather- Calluna vulgaris. However, "heather" is the common name for plants of the genera Calluna, Erica, Daboecia, Bruckenthalia, and Andromeda. Most heathers found in American gardens are Calluna, Daboecia, and the "hardy" Erica. Within these three major genera, there are many species, hybrids, and hundreds of varieties.
Heathers are, for the most part, evergreen sub-shrubs and have many characteristics that make them valuable and versatile garden plants. There are hundreds of varieties available and many ways they can be used in the garden. Flower colors include pink, lavender, white, magenta, amethyst, mauve, and scarlet. They may be complemented or contrasted with foliage colors of copper, pink, gold, silvery gray and infinite shades of green. Flowering time varies with the species. Beginning in the early winter and continuing into early spring, Erica carnea and E. erigina are in full bloom. Daboecia, E. cinerea, E. tralix, E. vagans, and E. ciliaris flower from early to mid summer. Callunas bloom in late summer and early autumn. The varied flowering times and colored foliage can provide year-round color in the garden. Peak bloom time is late summer and early autumn when the summer-flowering Ericas overlap the autumn-flowering Callunas. A major advantage of heather is that they look their best when most other plants in the garden have long faded.
Although some of the more spectacular heather gardens consist of large areas planted en masse, this should not discourage gardeners who have limited space or time available for gardening. Broad differences in size and form, in addition to a wide variety of colors, permit many arrangements of heathers, from individual specimens to small group plantings.