Although the fashion for planting up beds and banks solely with heathers has waned, heathers still have a very valuable role to play, writes Gerry Daly.
Heathers happily provide a touch of colour during the winter and early spring when few other flowers oblige. And all heathers do not need to be grown on acidic soil — many erica kinds are just as happy in limy soil.
As it happens, the main ericas for winter use are the lime-tolerant ones, such as Erica carnea, Erica x darleyensis and Erica mediterranea. Many named varieties of each of these species are available, especially the first two, such as ‘King George’ and ‘Myretoun Ruby’. Varieties of the third species are generally taller and useful where a little more height and size is useful.
The other main erica species is the common native bell heather, Erica cinerea, that clothes many a hillside in purple during late summer and early autumn. The slightly later flowering ling heather, with paler pink flowers of open, rather than rounded bell shape, is Calluna vulgaris. Many selections in a variety of colours of both of these plants have been made, some with double flowers.
This is a good time of year to select and plant heathers for the garden. The late summer and autumn kinds will be in flower or on the point of flowering and can be selected for the suitability of their colours. The winter and spring flowering kinds can also be planted now, or chosen later when they are in flower.
Because of their relatively small size, most heathers are best used at the front of beds and borders, or in gaps between larger plants. They tolerate shade very poorly and it is important to avoid planting in places where they will be shaded by taller plants, or in positions where tree leaves might fall on them.
Question: Re-seeding a lawn
‘I have a lot of wear and tear on my lawn due to pets and children playing. What can I do to reduce this, and when?’
This is the ideal time to repair any damage that the lawn might have sustained during the summer months. Wear and tear from games and pets can leave a lawn looking quite shabby. A lightly worn lawn will recover of its own accord as soon as the cause of the wear ceases.
But more heavily damaged areas need to be over-sown or even re-laid with sods. In cases of heavy wear, the first step is to spike the area with a digging fork, gently easing back a little on the fork to break compaction.
If the grass is very sparse, the soil can be lightly pricked over with a fork and seed sown and raked in. If the grass has completely gone, it might be easier to cut sods from an out-of-the-way corner and use these to repair the damage. The corner can then be re-sown.
Plant spring colour bulbs now!
If you want a colourful spring in your garden, now is the time to plant bulbs. There is a great choice of bulbs and they flower over a long period, keeping the garden going from January to May. The sequence of spring bulbs begins with snowdrops and crocuses, runs through daffodils and finishes with tulips. Less well known bulbs, such as scillas, chionodoxas, ranunculus and anemones, make their contribution along the way.