How to plant heathers

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Heather Flowers

Did you know? Each Heather flower has 30 Heather seeds, so a Heather plant produces up to 150,000 seeds per season.

Heather (Calluna vulgaris) Scotch Heather/Ling Heather, is an evergreen branching shrub. Heather flowers bloom in late summer. Wild species of Heather flowers are usually in purple or mauve shades. The flower’s various cultivars come in colors ranging from white, through pink, a wide range of purples and reds. Different varieties of Heather flowers bloom from late July to November in the northern hemisphere. The flowers may turn brown but still remain on the plants over winter, and this can lead to interesting effects.

Kingdom Plantae Division Magnoliophyta Class Magnoliopsida Order Ericales Family Ericaceae Genus Calluna Heathers are found throughout Western Europe and in some parts of northeastern North America and Siberia. Heather varieties are widely cultivated in rock gardens for cut flower arrangements. A low mound of handsome greenery topped by multiple spikes of colored flowers; Heathers are native to Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, Russia, and northern North America. The Heather plant is one of the primary plant species grown on the poor, acid, sandy soils which is typical of heaths.

In Heather flowers, the corolla is showy in true heaths, and in the Erica genus, heathers have showy pink or rarely, white sepals that overlap the corolla. There are two types of Winter Heather plants. The lower, winter spreading types are grown as ground covers, in rockeries, containers or for spot color in flower and shrub beds. While the upright winter varieties are best suited for borders, spot color, massing or as container plants. The flowers of both types are ideal for small winter arrangements.

from our stores – Pickupflowers – the flower expert

Facts About Heather Flower

  • The scientific name, Calluna vulgaris, in general, came from Calluna, from the Greek ‘Kallune’ meaning to clean or brush, as the twigs were used for making brooms and ‘vulgaris’ from the Latin word, meaning common.
  • Heather flowers are a traditional remedy in Swedish herbal medicine.
  • The Heather plant is sometimes also referred to as ‘Ling’ derived either from the old Norse Lyng or from the Anglo Saxon ‘Lig’ meaning fire and referred to as use for fuel.
  • Heather flowers are seen in pink, lavender, white, magenta, amethyst, purple and red.
  • Heather flowers also come in beautiful and varied colors of copper, pink, gold, silvery gray and almost infinite shades of green.
  • Heather, the name most commonly used for the plant, is of Scottish origin presumably derived from the Scots word Haeddre.
  • Heather is one of Scotland’s most prolific and abundant plants.
  • There are a number of reasons why Heathers are so abundant with such a wide distribution. For one, the plant’s reproductive capacity is high with seeds produced in very large numbers.
  • Heathers form dense stands that shade and out-compete low-growing vegetation, making it an unsuitable environment for native flora and fauna.

Growing Heather flowers

  • Heaths and Heathers prefer full sun and well-drained, acidic soil, and they need protection from cold winter winds.
  • Heather plants can be planted anytime when the ground is not frozen.
  • The soil for planting should contain mix peat moss, compost or processed manure with your existing soil.
  • The addition of a little non-burning fertilizer, mixed into the planting soil, will encourage new root growth.
  • First, the Heather plants must be planted so the root-ball is level with the soil surface.
  • Second, be careful not to pile mulch up over the root system. In fact, it is best not to mulch them at all.
  • Third, heather must be planted in soil that is well drained, they will not tolerate continual wet feet.
  • Firm the soil around the plant and water-in.

Heather Plant Care

  • The Heather plants should be pruned each year immediately after they have finished flowering, which results in additional flowers the following year.
  • A well prepared soil with good drainage is needed.
  • A good feeding fertilizer is required. Poor foliage color or stunted growth would indicate the need for feeding.
  • So if that occurs, feed the heather with a rhododendron type fertilizer.
  • The best time to feed them is in late winter or late spring.
  • Apply the fertilizer at the drip-line of the plant, then water-in thoroughly.

How to Grow and Care for Heaths and Heathers

Evergreen, Heaths (Erica) and Heathers (Calluna vulgaris) are terrific plants that deserve a spot in the garden. Their fabulous ability to change color year-round, injecting vivid life into our landscape at a time when they need it most, is invaluable. Low maintenance, deer or salt resistant, winter hardy, drought tolerant (once established) and fairly easy to grow, they do not require much: decent drainage and some sunshine.

Heath and Heathers: Planting

  • Heather may be planted in the fall or early spring, so the plants may become established.
  • Heather needs at least a half-day of sun (minimum of six hours of sun a day). Full sun is better as the foliage colors intensify when fully exposed. Too much shade makes the plants leggy and affects the brilliance of their color.
  • These plants require good drainage. If your soil is heavy, a hillside, raised bed or mound of soil can help improve drainage.
  • Most thrive in growing zones 4-8. Not sure about your growing zone? Check here.

    Erica carnea ‘Springwood Pink’

    Erica carnea ‘Ice Princess’

    Erica carnea ‘Myretoun Ruby’

  • All heathers grow nicely in acid soil similarly to rhododendrons, azaleas. If your soil is alkaline, adding peat moss will help to achieve an ideal pH of 4.5 to 5.5.
  • Space heaths and heathers as far apart as their mature width and at least 2 ft. (60 cm) away from other shrubs to ensure good air circulation. This is important for good foliage growth and color
  • Dig a hole about twice as wide as the root ball and half again as deep.
  • Make vertical cuts the length of the root ball and across the bottom. Break up the roots and work in some soil.
  • Water the plant once or twice a week when the soil is dry throughout the first season. The soils should be moist but not soggy. This will encourage rapid and vigorous growth of the plants. Once established, the plants are drought tolerant and rarely need watering.
  • Mulch heathers after planting.

Erica x darleyensis ‘Ghost Hills’

Erica x darleyensis ‘Arthur Johnson’

Erica x darleyensis ‘Kramer’s Red’

Heath and Heathers: Pruning

  • Summer bloomers: Pruning is essential and should occur in late fall or early spring, below the old flowers on the branch. Round and shape the plant.
  • Winter bloomers: Shear lightly in spring, immediately after blooming. If your plants die out in the center, shearing will keep them alive and growing.

Calluna vugaris ‘Aphrodite’

Calluna vugaris ‘Firefly’

Calluna vugaris ‘Dark Beauty’

Heath and Heathers: Fertilizer

Fertilizer is not necessary and may even be harmful to heathers. Heaths and heathers actually like poor soil. If the plants are not thriving, use a low rate of fertilizer for acid-loving evergreen plants.

All about heather

It takes a special kind of plant to thrive in moorland areas, where the weather is often cold, wet and windy.

Heather – an evergreen shrub with twiggy stems – covers our open moorland. Usually lots of heather plants grow together, forming a thick, bushy carpet, sometimes up to half a metre tall. This helps the plant to survive strong winds. Heather also has tiny, narrow leaves shaped like the needles on a Christmas tree, which stop the plant from losing too much water as the winds blow across the moors.

Nectar from heather flowers makes excellent honey, and local beekeepers often bring their hives on to the moors in late-summer when the heather comes into bloom.

Types of heather

Three types of heather grow on the North York Moors.

Bell heather has dark pink or purple bell-shaped flowers. It generally flowers first, in late-July.

Cross-leaved heath has leaves arranged in crosses of four on its stems. It has pale pink bell-shaped flowers and can often be found in boggy areas.

Ling is the most common type of heather found on the North York Moors. It has very tiny pink flowers and generally flowers in mid-to-late August.

Heather burning

The heather covering the moorland is an important habitat. Short (young) heather provides food for sheep and red grouse, and shelter and nest sites for some ground-nesting birds. Taller (older) heather provides shelter and nest sites for birds and other wildlife.

However, if left undisturbed, heather plants will live for over 20 years and the stems eventually become very tough and woody, with few leaves or flowers. Consequently, gamekeepers manage the heather by burning it when the stems get to about wellie-top height. They burn different patches each year in rotation, so that there are always areas of short heather and tall heather close together.

Burning takes place over the winter and in early spring when there are no birds nesting on the ground and the soil is generally wet. The fires are small and carefully controlled so they don’t spread or damage the peaty soil. The following year new green shoots grow from underground stems and seeds.

The result is moorland that often looks like a patchwork quilt, with some areas of short, young heather for grouse and sheep to eat and some patches of taller, older heather for grouse to shelter and nest in. This creates a more diverse habitat, which is better for many other plants and animals too.

Read more about the guidance and licensing requirements for heather burning, including when and how to burn safely. Further advice on burning heather and grass is provided by the Uplands Management Group.

Heather

Heather, (Calluna vulgaris), also called Scotch heather or ling, low evergreen shrub of the heath family (Ericaceae), widespread in western Europe and Asia, North America, and Greenland. It is the chief vegetation on many wastelands of northern and western Europe. The young juicy shoots and the seeds of heather are the principal food of the red grouse (Lagopus scoticus), and ripe seeds of heather are eaten by many other species of birds.

heatherHeather (Calluna vulgaris) growing on a hillside in Scotland.© Jan Holm/.com

Scotch heather has purple stems, shoots with small close leaves, and feathery spikes of pink bell-shaped flowers. In sheltered places it grows to 0.9 metre (3 feet) or more, but on arid slopes it frequently rises only a few centimetres above the ground. The plant is distinguished from true heaths (Erica species), which are sometimes loosely called heather, by the lobes of its calyx (the collective sepals), which conceal the petals; in true heaths the petals are longer than the calyx.

heatherHeather (Calluna vulgaris).AdstockRF

Heather has a number of economic uses. Large stems are made into brooms, shorter ones are tied into bundles that serve as brushes, and long trailing shoots are woven into baskets. The plant has also been used for bedding. With the peat about its roots, it serves as an effective fuel. The huts of Scottish Highlanders were formerly made of heather and heath stems cemented with peat mud mixed with dry grass or straw. Today temporary sheds are often built in a similar way and roofed with heather.

Dunwich HeathHeather and gorse on Dunwich Heath, with the North Sea in the background, just south of Dunwich, Suffolk, England.Zorba the Geek

All About Heathers

What do you need to know about planting and growing heather in your garden?

Heathers are classified as low growing evergreen shrubs. Some are miniature forms growing only a few centimetres in height whilst others can attain 3-4 metres in the UK. This site can help you select the right type for your garden.

The soil type will govern the types of heather you can successfully grow and as a general and simple rule the Winter or Spring flowering varieties will grow on acid or slightly alkaline (chalky) soils whereas the Summer flowering cultivars require a lime (chalk) free acidic soil.

Winter/Spring flowering heathers are the families labelled as Erica carnea, Erica x darleyensis and Erica erigena. These types cope well with most soil types.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Jana’

Erica tetralix ‘Pink Star’

Erica mackayana ‘Shining Light’

The Calluna vulgaris family, flowering in the Summer and late Autumn require an acid soil and a lighter soil structure whereby the plants can get their fine roots to penetrate the soil easily.

Some of the other Summer flowering heather requiring the same conditions are Erica cinerea, Erica tetralix, Erica x williamsii, Erica ciliaris, Erica x watsonii, Erica x stuartii, Erica mackaiana and Daboecia.

Erica vagans ‘Summertime’

Erica x darleyensis ‘Phoebe’

Erica vagans, a Summer flowering heather will tolerate heavier soils and is generally described as moderately lime tolerant.

Tree or shrub heathers are usually available in early Spring and display their long spikes of white to rich purple flowers on green or gold foliage.

Erica ciliaris

Erica carnea

Erica cinerea

How to get the best from your heather

Only a little maintenance is required to keep heather plants but the ‘little’ is quite essential to get the best results from them.

Planting

The smaller purchased heather plants are normally planted in the top few centimetres of soil and if planted in the Spring this is the soil layer that dries out very quickly in hot weather, therefore additional watering or irrigation is necessary especially in the Summer after planting. The soil can be modified by the addition of material to allow the fine roots of the heather to penetrate the soil particles easily, being of a fine texture they cannot batter their way through heavy clays soils without some help! Essentially the soil type may need to be improved in texture to aid the heather.

If in doubt about your soil type you can purchase a simple pH test kit for a little money from most garden centres but don’t forget that they look well in tubs or planters where they can be planted in an ericaceous compost.

Heavier, denser soils may need a material added to make them more friable or open in texture whilst the sandy soils would benefit from an addition of a loamy material to assist in retaining moisture and nutrients. Useful materials are bark, compost, coarse sand or grit. Whilst it is appreciated that there is a movement against the use of peat, if it has been sustainably sourced it remains an excellent material to improve the planting environment for the benefit of heather and its associated insect life.

Calculate that for each square yard/metre you will need 8/9 9cm size or 4/5 1.0 litre heather plants.

Pruning

To put it very simply give the heather plants a light trim after flowering to the base of the flowering spike. This will keep them neat and bushy. In general if plants are left unpruned for a number of years they cannot be successfully cut back hard as this will leave bare woody areas. Only trim as far back as there are leaves/green foliage visible.

Feeding

It is often felt that as heather grows wild on upland heathland sites that additional feeding is unnecessary. However they will perform well given a light feed once or twice during the first half of the year. This can be a light broadcast of a general purpose fertiliser over the plants and is a simple and easy method of application. A mulch of bark or even lawn mower clippings will help to retain moisture and reduce weed growth.

Where to grow them?

Heather will grow well in full sun or light shade. Whilst it will grow if planted in the shade the golden or foliage forms will lose their foliage colour and flowering will be reduced. Ideally chose a moist but free draining site and if planting on a bank remember that these sites dry out quickly. Avoid planting under trees or in wet boggy areas.

Heathers have developed a ‘niche’ these days for planting in containers and perform well as long as they are kept moist and not allowed to dry out. In the garden they can either be planted in odd numbered groups (the larger and bolder the better) or mixed as single plants to give a more natural display.

Growing Heather: How To Care For Heather

Brilliant blooms of the heather flower attract gardeners to this low growing evergreen shrub. Various performance results from growing heather. Size and forms of the shrub vary greatly and many colors of the blooming heather flower exist. Common heather (Calluna vulgaris) is native to the moors and bogs of Europe and may be difficult to grow in some areas of the United States. However, gardeners continue planting heather for its spectacular form and foliage and for the racemes of the heather flower.

How to Care for Heather

The heather flower appears in mid summer to mid fall on this low growing ground cover shrub. Heather plant care usually should not include pruning, as this may disturb the natural look of growing heather.

Scotch heather plant care does not include heavy watering once the plant is established, usually after the first year. However, the shrub is not drought tolerant in all landscape situations. After being established, heather is picky about water requirements, needing about an inch per week, including rainfall and supplemental irrigation. Too much water of growing heather can cause roots to rot, but soil should remain consistently moist.

The heather flower is tolerant of sea spray and resistant to deer. Growing heather requires acidic, sandy or loamy soil that is well drained, and protection from damaging winds.

The attractive, changing foliage of this specimen of the Ericaceae family is another reason for planting heather. Forms of foliage will vary with the type of heather you plant and with the age of the shrub. Many cultivars of heather offer changing, brilliant and colorful foliage at different times of year.

Some sources report that growing heather is limited to USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 6, other include zone 7. Any zones further south are said to be too hot for the heather shrub. Some sources advise of difficulties with the plant’s vigor and blame it on soil, moisture content and wind. Yet, gardeners continue planting heather and experimenting with how to care for heather with enthusiasm for the attractive, long blooming ground cover shrub.

Scottish Heather – Versatile & Beautiful

Scottish heather is perfectly suited to the wild and rugged hills of Scotland.

‘The most common type of heather in Scotland is ‘Ling’ heather which is hardy and fast growing, and loves wet soil.

With all the rain we get north of the border it’s one very happy little plant!

Heather grows freely and abundantly spreading it’s glorious purple hues across around five million acres of Scottish moorland, glens and hills.

Perhaps it’s because it was (and still is) so readily available that the Scots have found so many practical uses for one of their national flowers.

Origins of the word ‘Heather’

The name ‘Heather’ may come from the old Scottish word ‘haeddre’ which is seen as far back as the 14th Century.

It may also have been called ‘heddir’ or ‘hathar’ at different periods of time.

Scottish Heather is also sometimes known as ‘Ling Heather’, referring to the old Norse word ‘Lyng’ which meant ‘light in weight’.

Click on these links to jump to….

  • About Heather
  • It’s Myths & Legends
  • Why it’s considered lucky
  • History & traditional uses
  • Two popular heather products

About Scottish Heather

The color of wild Scottish heather usually ranges from lilac to purple.

You can also find white heather growing wild but it’s much less common – perhaps that’s one of the reasons it’s thought to be lucky.

Other species can be found in a variety of colors, from gold or copper, to red and even silver-grey.

Heather usually blooms twice a year in Scotland, in early summer and then during the late summer and early fall (Autumn).

Although it varies from year to year depending on weather, the best time to see the full beauty of Heather in Scotland is often between late July and early September. Yep, August is THE month!

If you’re visiting Scotland in the summertime, it’s a sight you don’t want to miss!

Heather – Legends & Myths

Myths and magic are so tightly woven into Scotland’s history that it’s sometimes impossible to separate reality from legend.

Although in lots of ways we Scots are a down-to-earth race, we’re also surprisingly sentimental, emotional and superstitious.

It’s just one of the things that makes our country so endlessly fascinating!

Just like any other Scottish symbol, the humble heather plant has it’s fair share of legends attached to it.

We’re going to share two of the most popular ones with you.

Both of these stories have their origins in the very early days of Scottish history and we hope you’ll be as intrigued by them as we are. Enjoy.

The Last Pictish King & Heather Ale:

One of the most well-known legends is centered around a confrontation between Viking raiders and the last surviving Pictish King.

Some accounts put it during the 4th Century AD, but as the Vikings didn’t actually appear on Scottish soil until the end of the 8th Century, this is unlikely…. although of course, it’s a legend, so there’s a bit of ‘wiggle room’ here!

After their army is defeated, the Pictish King and his son find themselves cornered on a cliff-top, where the Viking chief tortures them in an attempt to obtain the secret recipe for Heather Ale.

The King of the Picts is quick witted, but doubts that his son is strong enough to withstand the torture without giving up the recipe.

So he makes a deal with the Viking Chief, saying that if his son is spared the torture and killed quickly, he himself will reveal the secret.

The young prince is then thrown off the cliff and into the sea where he drowns quickly.

BUT, the Pictish King doesn’t uphold his end of the arrangement, and although it costs him his life he wins the battle and the recipe is safe.

In some variations of the tale the brave King takes the Viking over the edge of the cliff with him.

Why White Heather Is Lucky For Brides

Wild Scottish Heather is most often some shade of purple, with white heather being much more rare.

Legend has it that in the 3rd Century AD, Malvina (daughter of the legendary Scottish poet, Ossian), was betrothed (engaged to be married) to a Celtic warrior named Oscar.

Tragically (but not unexpectedly!), Oscar died in battle, and when Malvina heard the news she was heartbroken. The messenger who delivered the bad news, also delivered a spray of purple heather that Oscar had sent as a final token of his undying love for her.

It’s said that when Malvinas’ tears fell onto the flowers in her hand, they immediately turned white, and this magical occurrence prompted her to say

‘although it is the symbol of my sorrow, may the white heather bring good fortune to all who find it.’

Even today, white Heather is considered to be lucky, especially for brides, and adding a spray of it to your bouquet, on table decorations and so on is popular.

If you have Scottish roots, have a Scottish-themed wedding coming up, or just want to add a touch of good luck to your ceremony, here are a selection of gorgeous silk buttonholes, corsages and wedding bouquets for you to take a look at:

The Luckiest Plant On Earth?

But it’s not only brides who believe that white Scottish Heather is a symbol of good luck.

As I mentioned earlier, the Scottish people are big on superstition, good (and bad) ‘omens’, legends, luck and so forth, and white heather is like a four-leaf clover to us.

In 1884 even Queen Victoria commented on this character trait during a visit to the Scottish Highlands. Describing an incident which involved one of her personal servants, she said …..

‘… he espied a piece of white heather, and jumped off to pick it. No Hihglander would pass by it without picking it, for it was considered to bring good luck.’

Other myths surrounding the magical properties of white Scottish Heather include:

  • Believed to grow only on ground where blood has not been shed in battle.
  • Also, more enchantingly, that it grows over the final resting place of Faeries.
  • White heather is closely associated with battles and conflict, and is said to bring good luck to whoever wears it.
  • The Chiefs of the Clan MacDonald are said to have attached a spray of wild Scottish heather to their spears.
  • It’s also been linked to the MacAlister, MacIntyre, Ranald, Farquharson, MacPherson and Shaw clans, often being used as a clan symbol in the days before more sophisticated heraldic badges existed.
  • Victorious after a 1544 battle, the Clan Ranald believed that the white heather they had worn was the reason for their success.
  • Around 200 years later, Ewan of Cluny (Chief of the Clan MacPherson), was forced to flee and hide after the Battle of Culloden.

Cluny evaded capture at one point, when those searching for him didn’t notice him sleeping in a patch of white Heather, reinforcing the belief that it was lucky.

With such a rich and varied history, it’s no wonder Scottish Heather is one of the most enduring and recognizable symbols of Scotland.

In our opinion, the reputation is well deserved, don’t you?

History & Traditional Uses

Heather has been plentiful in Scotland for as long as it’s history has been written (and probably before that too).

The Druids (understood to be an ancient order of Celtic priests) considered it a sacred plant.

Even today some people consider it to have almost supernatural properties, sort of a ‘charm’, which is believed to offer protection from harm (especially rape or violent attack).

On a more mundane level it’s used in aromatherapy to relieve a host of different problems.

Over thousands of years, the inventive, practical and resourceful Scots have found a whole host of uses for this natural bounty:

Construction

Especially on Scotland’s islands, heather played a major role in building construction. It was used in walls, thatched roofs, ropes, pegs and more. It also appeared in the thatched roofs of mainland houses.

Interesting Tid-Bit!

The virtues of a mattress made from Scottish heather were described by King James VI’s tutor, George Buchanan like this:

‘…… so pleasant, that it may vie in softness with the finest down, while in salubrity it far exceeds it…. and restores strength to fatigued nerves, so that those who lie down languid and weary in the evening, arise in the morning vigorous and sprightly.’

Mattresses & Beds

Since ancient times (going back thousands of years before Christ was born) dried Scottish heather was used as a sort of fragrant and bouncy mattress. Evidence of this has been found in a 4000 year old village on the island of Skara Brae in the Orkneys.

Historically, heather beds were considered to be just as comfortable as feather beds because the dried stalks and flowers are so light and soft.
A bed made from heather had the added extra of original aromatherapy, and the fragrant flower heads were usually placed towards the top of the mattress where the sleeper’s head would lie.

Household Tools

Heather stems are tough, strong and resilient (like the Scottish people), and were used in making a whole variety of implements including brooms, farming tools such as hoes or rakes and ropes.

To dye cloth – the beautiful color of highland heather was perfect for dying roughspun cloth and wool. Depending on the type of heather used (and what it was combined with) it could produce muted yellow, gold, bronze, gray, green and purple colors.
Even today ‘heather’ is a popular color in traditional Scottish clothing – and of course it features heavily in many tartans.

As Medicine

Heather was believed to have some amazing medicinal properties, and was used by ancient Scots to treat all sorts of conditions and ailments.

These included nervousness and anxiety, coughs, consumption (now known as TB), digestive issues, poisoning, blindness, arthritis, rheumatism and more.

It was made into a wide variety of different drinks, potions, ointments and salves.

Today Heather is still used effectively in aromatherapy products to treat digestive upset, skin problems, coughs and insomnia. Also as an internal cleanser and detoxifier, due to it’s slightly diuretic properties.

And last, but not least, heather is used to create the most deliciously scented soaps, candles, perfumes and more…. each can whisk you away to a land of clean air, sparkling water and scudding clouds, where the sharp scent of pine mixes with gentle gentle scent of highland heather.

Mmmm…. wonderful 🙂

Want to grow your very own patch of heather. These Scottish Heather Seeds (Calluna Vulgaris) let you do just that!

Two Popular Scottish Heather-Infused Goodies

So, as you now know, heather appears in so many aspects of Scottish life (both historically and still today) that it’s not surprising that this humble little plant is so well-known worldwide.

Before we finish up here, let’s take a look at two of the most famous heather-based products:

Heather Ale

The brewing of Scotland’s Heather Ale goes back thousands of years, and is thought to be one of the oldest types of ale in the world.

Heather Ale: A Galloway Legend

The first few lines of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem go like this…….

‘From the bonny bells of heather,
They brew a drink Langsyn
Was sweeter far than honey
Was stronger far than wine.’

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

On the tiny Isle of Rum, off the west coast of Scotland, 3000 year old shards of pottery have been found which contain traces of a fermented drink made from Heather!

It’s believed that the Picts developed a recipe for Ale that relied entirely on the Heather plant for its’ sweetness and fermentation.

It was valued so highly that the recipe was kept a secret, with only the King and his first-born son knowing what went into it.

This ‘secret potion’ was then be passed on down through the generations.

This brew was immortalized in the poem entitled ‘HEATHER ALE : A Galloway Legend’ by Robert Louis Stevenson (see box on the right)

It tells, in verse, the legend of the Pictish King who sacrificed both his life, and that of his son, to protect the secret recipe.

All I can say is – that must have been some ale!

Brewing your own Heather Ale

If you’re interested in learning more about brewing heather ale yourself, here are a couple of resources that might point you in the right direction:

  • Beer and Wine Journal, Brewing with Heather
  • Midwest Supplies, Heather Ale
  • American Homebrewers Association Forum, Heather Ale

Heather Honey

Bees work for months to collect enough pollen to produce this beautiful thick, golden Scottish Heather Honey with the unique and delicate taste of Scottish heather.

As well as being delicious, heather honey is rich in minerals and was traditionally used in medicinal drinks and potions.

Today you can get mouth-watering Scottish heather honey, honey-jam and honey-marmalade, as well as tea with the same wonderful flavor.

Yummy!

The Scottish Heather Book is dedicated to the history and character of our special Scottish Heather.

It explores the legends behind the flower and giving an interesting and in-depth look at how this humble plant came to be such a well-known part of Scotland’s symbolism.

It’s easy-to-read style, plus poetry and literary excerpts from historically famous Scots, make this book worth adding to your collection.

For a whole host of great products check out

Scottish Heather Gifts & Goodies

There’s something for everyone!

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Growing Heath and Heather for Year Round Color

Obviously the heather garden shown above is much more than most people have room for, but it does give one some ideas of the color combinations that can be achieved if certain cultivars are selected. To give you a list of varieties that you can choose for color, either foliage or flower, every month of the year, I will start with January.

Erica x darleyensis ‘Margaret Porter’

This heath will be in full bloom in January, and will continue into early spring. The lilac flowers are big and fluffy and really stand out. Another bonus is the bright creamy tips in mid spring after flowering has completed.

Erica ‘Margaret Porter’

Erica x darleyensis ‘Jack H. Brummage

This cultivar is grown for its year-round bright yellow foliage. It is especially useful to contrast against dark green plants, brightening up dark areas in the landscape. The flowers are less noticed in the winter months.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Wickwar Flame’

Really Orange in mid-winter, this heather looks great against blue conifers or other dark colored foliage. Almost as richly colored as flowers, the foliage glows for months. Lavender flowers do appear in August.

For March and April, you may want to have colorful flowers and foliage, as seen on these two heaths. Erica carnea ‘King George’ livens up the late winter garden with soft pink flowers on a low and spreading mounder. Erica carnea ‘Ann Sparks’, on the other hand, has rich red-orange foliage to add contrast. The two together are a wonderful combination.

Erica carnea ‘Porter’s Red’

Rich dark pink flowers cover this late winter blooming heath. Plant in mass for a great effect. Combines well with other winter blooming heath.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Pat’s Gold’

This flat ground-hugger heather will have orange highlights on bright gold foliage. As spring approaches the orange tips will go back to gold, but this striking coloration lasts all winter. The pink flowers come out in August.

May and June will bring the brightly colored spring tips of certain Erica and Calluna, while also starting the long blooming season of the Daboecia. The varieties with the bright spring tips have two displays, one in spring and the other in summer. The Daboecia will bloom from May until November.

Daboecia cantibrica ‘Polofolia’

Large purple flowers cover this plant from mid spring until late fall. These plants grow larger than most of the Calluna or Erica, but will stay dense and have very dark shiny green leaves. By dead heading the spent flowers in early summer, you will receive another full bloom in late fall.

Daboecia cantibrica ‘Arielle’

Rich red flowers decorate this Daboecia all spring and into summer. Dark green foliage adds to its value, with little care required other than an occasional pruning to shape. Somewhat drought tolerant.

July and August is the beginning of the heath and heather flower show. All of the Calluna vulgaris will start in July and go through August, some earlier, some later. The flowers range from pink to lavender, mauve and crimson, amethyst and white. Most will be mounded cushions of color. Several Erica varieties will be blooming now as well. Most Erica cinerea with purple and pink flowers make their entrance in July and August. The Erica vagens are also very showy with their ‘bottle brush’ type flowers, covering the entire plant to the exclusion of the foliage. Needless to say, this is the peak of the heath and heather show, so plant in areas you want to be most visible this time of year.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Dark Beauty’

Semi-double deep cerise flowers cover this compact heather from August through October. The flowers deepen to a ruby as the flowering time goes on. It has nice dark green foliage. Found as a sport on C.v.’Darkness’. Certainly one of the best cultivars to be introduced in recent times, gaining a Gold Medal in Boskoop, Holland in 1990. Also a winner of the Award of Garden Merit trophy.

Erica cinerea ‘Lime Soda’

Bright lime green foliage is attractive all year long, but especially in summer into fall when the soft lavender flowers cover the plant. We think this will become more popular as it is more widely grown. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit trophy. Choice!

Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’

Growing flat on the ground, here is the heather you have been looking for! The clear green foliage creeps along the ground, making a nice lawn that covers itself with white flowers from August through September. A very distinctive plant and well worth finding a spot in your garden or rockery. Distinctive. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit trophy.

Erica cinerea ‘P.S. Patrick’

Excellent purple flowers cover this fine foliage Erica from summer into the fall. The foliage is a rich dark green on a plant with an upright habit. Recommended. Found in Dorset by P.S. Patrick when an employee of Maxwell & Beale. He later became an author of one of the standard textbooks on heathers.

Erica cinerea ‘Golden Drop’

A fine textured heath that has rich yellow-orange foliage with darker reddish-orange tips most of the year. In the summer the purple flowers add yet more color. Looks stunning when planted near blue or dark green foliage plants.

Erica vagens ‘Birch Glow’

Here is an excellent mounding heath that will take harsher environments than most. The plant will make a tight mound 24″-30″ across and 8″-10″ tall over time. The rose-pink flowers completely cover the plant in the summer months of July through September, and are like little ‘bottle brushes’. Very showy. In the winter, the foliage develops reddish tips that are very distinctive.

September and October will see less flowers, although there are still some Calluna varieties and a few Ericas that will extend the color into these months.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Roswitha’

This bud-bloomer, which has no real petals or stamins, flowers for a very long time…September through January. The flower buds are a deep lilac red rose color. The foliage is a dark green and the plant habit is broad and upright.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Kinlochruel’

Wonderful pure white, double flowers brighten up the garden from August through October on this excellent performing heather. The foliage is a bright green color most of the year, but turns bronze in winter, adding to the interest. Spectacular plant, certainly one the best widely available double whites. Found by Brig. E. J. Montgomery at Kinlochruel, Colintraine, Argyll, Scotland as a sport on ‘County Wicklow’. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit trophy.

Erica x griffithsii ‘Valerie Griffiths’

Really bright lemon-yellow foliage is why this heath is grown. The pale pink flowers add some color in late summer, but with the intensity of the foliage, it becomes one of the most noticed plants in the gardens. It is sheared to keep the nice mounded shape, and is combined with plants of contrasting foliage like in this photo, near Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’. Colorful all year round, but especially nice in September and October.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Goldsworth Crimson’

Long racemes of crimson flowers cover this upright-spreading heather from September through November. It has very dark green foliage. Needs good shearing after the bloom. Named after the nursery which introduced it.

Erica x darleyensis ‘Darleydale’

Erica x darleyensis ‘Darley Dale’, also know as ‘Mediterannean Pink’, makes a nice low shrub that blooms in late fall and into winter. Typically in bloom around the Christmas holidays in mild climates makes ‘Darley Dale’ a real favorite. Add this plant to your garden for color when little else is in bloom.

Erica x darleyensis ‘Kramer’s Rote’

‘Rote’ meaning red in German, this excellent heath will bloom from October all the way until March. The flowers are a dark pink, but in the heather circles…pretty close to red. The foliage on this variety is a dark-green and will make a compact mound.

Erica erigena ‘Irish Dusk’

Salmon buds opening to clear rose pink flowers, November-May, with dark gray green foliage. Neat compact habit 24″ tall x 20″ wide. Our favorite winter bloomer. One of the larger growing heaths.

8 year old plants in the garden below

Calluna vulgaris ‘Old Gold’

Rich reddish gold foliage is spectacular in November and December. Really screaming orange would be the best description. Wow! This one is so great as a contrast plant against plants with darker foliage colors.

The List:

January – February

Firefly

Margaret Porter

Wickwar Flame

Jack H. Brummage

March – April

Ann Sparks

King George

Porter’s Red

Pat’s Gold

May – June

Irish Orange

Spring Torch

Irish Lemon

Easter Bonfire

Polofolia

Arielle

July – August

Dark Beauty

Lime Soda

White Lawn

P.S. Patrick

Golden Drop

Birch Glow

September – October

Roswitha

Kinlochruel

Valerie Griffiths

November – December

Darleydale

Kramer’s Rote

Irish Dusk

Old Gold

Heather produces small purple flowers that are common in the wild. It also has variations of white, pink, lavender and red.

Heather is a bushy evergreen plant that belongs to the heath family and are native to Western Europe, Siberia and North America. Its scientific name Calluna vulgaris is from the Greek word kallune, which means “to clean” or “to brush.” It’s a reference to how heather was used to make brooms in the past.

The plant has also been used for painting of wool. It’s currently used in making shampoos, lotions, baths, perfumes, beddings, pillow stuffing, ropes, baskets, packaging materials, honey and as flavoring agent for beer, wine and tea. Heather starts producing flowers in its 3rd to 4th year until its 15th year before it becomes woody.

Types

Anne Sparks (Erica carnea)

With bronze-red foliage and stunning pink flowers, it grows up to six inches high and blooms from January to May.

Bell’s Extra Special (Erica carnea)

This heather has heliotrope flowers and foliage that is whiskey colored, and it blooms from January to May. It also grows up to six inches in height.

C.D. Eason (Erica cinerea)

A type of Bell Heather, the C.D. Eason has beautiful, bright-magenta petals that bloom from late-spring to early-fall and grow up to 10 inches tall and 2 feet in width. Its dark-green foliage looks magnificent next to its blooms, and this is but one of the many reasons it has won so many international flower awards. Generally pest-free, this type of heather looks great in rock gardens, slopes, and groundcovers, and it is also very easy to grow. It does best in full sun and moist soil that is well-drained.

Carnea Aurea (Erica carnea)

This one blooms from January to April, gets up to six inches in height, and has gold foliage with pale-pink flowers.

Cecelia M. Beale (Erica carnea)

With beautiful white flowers, this heather blooms from January to April and grows up to six inches high.

Challenger (Erica carnea)

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This heather has compact bright-red blooms, grows to six inches high, and blooms from January to April.

Dark Beauty (Calluna vulgaris)

The winner of several international flower awards, the Dark Beauty boasts profuse dark-cerise semi-double flowers that deepen to ruby-red with age and last for a very long time in late-summer and early-fall. They grow 8 inches high and 14 inches wide, and they are easy to grow and low-maintenance. Butterflies and hummingbirds love them, and they have dark-green evergreen foliage that complements the petals perfectly. They do best in full sun and well-drained soils, and they have a compact, upright habit.

December Red (Erica carnea)

A beautiful plant with pink and lilac flowers, it gets up to six inches or more in height and blooms from December to March.

Eileen Porter (Erica carnea)

A striking plant that blooms from October to April, it grows up to six inches high and has rich carmine-colored flowers.

Firefly (Calluna vulgaris)

Also known as the Scottish Heather, this plant consists of deep-mauve petals and is one of the showiest types of heather plants. It has won several international flower awards and it grows up to 20 inches in height. The color of the flowers changes throughout the year from chartreuse and yellow in the spring to orange and red in early-fall, finally turning to a glowing brick-red in the winter. It is a stunning flower that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, and it looks great in vases and containers.

Foxhollow (Erica carnea)

With golden-colored foliage that gets deeper in winter, its petals are pink and bell-shaped, and it blooms from January to April.

Golden Starlet (Erica carnea)

The Golden Starlet has white flowers, golden foliage, and it blooms from December to March. It can also grow up to eight inches high.

Ice Princess (Erica carnea)

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With beautiful white blooms that stand upright and tall, this flower blooms from February to April and grows to six inches high.

Isabelle (Erica carnea)

The Isabelle consists of white blooms that appear from December to May, and it grows six to eight inches tall.

James Backhouse (Erica carnea)

With large lavender flowers, this variety blooms from December to April and grows up to six inches in height.

Jana (Calluna vulgaris)

This flower consists of beautiful dark-pink blooms that look beautiful clustered together and have bright-green foliage that complements the blooms perfectly. They bloom profusely and the type of soil recommended changes depending on when you want to plant them. If you choose flowers that bloom in winter or spring, acidic or slightly alkaline soil works best, whereas it is best to choose a lime-free acidic soil when you want something that is going to bloom in the summer months.

Jennifer Anne (Erica carnea)

This one has pink flowers that get darker as it ages, and it blooms from November to April.

John Kampa (Erica carnea)

The John Kampa has flowers in a rose-pink color and blooms from February to April. It can grow up to six inches high during this timeframe.

King George (Erica carnea)

This flower has deep-pink blooms that are truly stunning, and they bloom from December to April. It also grows over eight inches in height.

Loughrigg (Erica carnea)

The Loughrigg blooms from January to May and consists of open pink flowers. It grows up to six inches high, many times shorter.

March Seedling (Erica carnea)

Growing a little taller than many other heather plants, it can reach up to 10 inches high and has soft-pink flowers. It blooms from January to May.

Myretoun Ruby (Erica carnea)

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This flower has deep-heliotrope flowers that bloom from January to May and grow up to eight inches high.

Natalie (Erica carnea)

With beautiful dark-pink-red flowers and a height of up to 10 inches, this is an elegant flower that blooms from January to April.

Orient (Erica carnea)

The Orient grows up to six inches high and has beautiful lilac-pink flowers. It blooms from February to April and looks stunning.

Phoebe (Erica x darleyensis)

Its blooms are the perfect shade of pink, and its bell-shaped flowers have dark tips that perfectly complement the pink of the petals. It is an easy-to-grow flower that requires little maintenance, and it is loved by butterflies and birds.

Pink Ice (Erica cinerea)

Pale rose-pink flowers highlight this plant, and the dwarf, low-growing shrub makes great groundcovers and edging. Once it’s established, the flower is tolerant of drought, and it handles even acidic and sandy soil very well, as long as it is well-drained. Easy to grow and pest-free, the Pink Ice should be pruned yearly so it doesn’t lose its shape, and it will continue to stand out and catch people’s attention as long as it stays out of windy conditions. It also looks great in coastal or cottage gardens, as well as containers and vases.

Pink Spangle (Erica carnea)

This one has flowers that are shell-pink in color and grow up to eight inches high. It blooms from January to May.

Pink Star (Erica tetralix)

These have clusters of bell-shaped soft to medium-pink blooms and a grey-green set of leaves. They bloom from late-spring to early-fall and are quite eye-catching. Hardy to zone five and warmer, they prefer well-drained but moist soil and full sun or partial shade.

Pirbright Rose (Erica carnea)

With flowers of lilac-pink and a height of up to eight inches, these plants are simply elegant and bloom from December to February.

Praecox Ruby (Erica carnea)

This plant has flowers that are deep-lilac-pink in color and grow up to 10 inches high, making them quite eye-catching. They bloom from November to May, enjoying a long blooming time.

Prince of Wales (Erica carnea)

This variety of heather has shell-pink flowers and blooms from November to April. They also grow up to eight inches in height, making them very noticeable.

Queen Mary (Erica carnea)

The Queen Mary blooms from December to March and has flowers that are deep-pink in color. It also grows up to eight inches in height.

R.B. Cook (Erica carnea)

Growing up to eight inches high, this plant has large flowers of a lavender color and blooms from December to April.

Red Jewel (Erica carnea)

At a height of only six inches, it is still an extraordinary-looking plant and has flowers that are beet-red in color, which perfectly complement its reddish foliage.

Rosalie (Erica carnea)

Growing over 10 inches high, the Rosalie has soft-pink flowers and blooms from January to May.

Rosantha (Erica carnea)

With dark, rose-pink flowers and a height of up to six inches, this plant blooms from March to April only but has eye-catching blooms nonetheless.

Ruby Glow (Erica carnea)

The Ruby Glow has rich-ruby-red flowers that will catch anyone’s attention, and it blooms from January to May. It also grows up to six inches in height.

Shining Light (Erica mackayana)

Beautiful white bell-shaped blooms make this plant a unique flower to plant in your garden, and, if you plant them next to blooms with colors such as deep-purple or red, the contrast can be very striking. Pruning once a year is recommended, otherwise they are very easy to grow.

Snow Princess (Erica carnea)

This flower has blooms of pure white that show up from December to May, growing up to six inches high.

Snow Storm (Erica carnea)

Growing up to eight inches high, this plant boasts abundant white flowers, which show up from December to March.

Snowcap (Erica carnea)

Another white flower variety, this one blooms from December to May and grows up to eight inches high.

Spring Torch (Calluna vulgaris)

With bright-green leaves and petals that change colors throughout the seasons, its leaves are green with tips of pink, red, and yellow, and its petals go from mauve to bronze and even purple. Growing up to 14 inches tall and tolerant of drought, the Spring Torch makes a perfect groundcover or edge, and it looks spectacular in vases and containers. Annual pruning is recommended for the plant to keep its shape, and it is best to keep it away from strong winds as well.

Springwood Pink (Erica carnea)

Great for groundcovers, this flower has beautiful pink flowers and grows up to 10 inches high. It blooms from December to May, so it has a long blooming period.

Springwood White (Erica carnea)

The Springwood White grows up to 10 inches high and has beautiful white blooms that show up from December to May.

Startler (Erica carnea)

With soft coral-pink flowers and a height of up to eight inches, this plant has a short blooming period and only blooms from February and March.

Summertime (Erica vagans)

With long, slender leaves and bell-shaped blooms that are medium to rose-pink in color, this is one type of heather you will certainly notice in the garden. It makes a beautiful groundcover or edging, and it is virtually pest-free. It also looks spectacular when planted next to creamy-white or white flowers.

Velvet Night (Erica cinerea)

This type of heather has beautiful, unique flowers that are deep black-purple in color, making it stand out among the other flowers in your garden. The winner of several international flower awards, this plant is spectacular when in bloom, and its dark-green foliage stays beautiful all year long. If you prune the flowers in fall or early-spring, they will remain attractive and shapely, and their bell-shaped flowers look great in vases and containers, not to mention as groundcover or edging.

Viking (Erica carnea)

Growing up to 10 inches high, the Viking has deep-purple-red flowers that demand attention, and it blooms only in March and April.

Vivelli (Erica carnea)

This plant has foliage in a bronze-green color and flowers that are a carmine-red color. It grows up to 10 inches high and blooms from January to May.

Westwood Yellow (Erica carnea)

With yellow-gold foliage and beautiful pink flowers, this plant blooms from February to April and grows up to six inches in height.

Wintersonne (Erica carnea)

The Wintersonne has flowers that are lilac in color but darken to magenta with age. It blooms from February to May and grows up to six inches high.

Interesting Facts about Heather Plants

  • In Scotland, the Heather is one of the most common and popular plants for gardeners.
  • Many Swedish herbal remedies include the Heather flower.
  • One of its most unique features is its foliage, which can be found in colors such as gold, yellow, silver-grey, and red, not to mention a wide variety of greens.
  • Heather flowers come in pink, lavender, purple, red, amethyst, white, and magenta.
  • Although similar and often thought of as the same thing, the Heather and Heath plants are actually different, with the former being an evergreen plant and the latter referring to a tract of uncultivated land.

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Tags: Flowers Categories: Gardens and Landscaping
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