Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Heather comes in all sizes and colors and is perfectly adapted to cool coastal gardens.

Hooray for Heather!

I have discovered that one of the gardens I look after is the ideal environment to grow heather (Erica). The garden is located in South San Francisco, which means that it's foggy and windy with sandy soil - the perfect combination for growing these colorful perennial plants.

There are two main types of heather; the European variety that thrives in areas that enjoy cool summer weather such as along the California coast and the South African varieties that are more tender and susceptible to frost. The South African varieties are about as hardy as fuchsias.

I first fell in love with heather at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show. There was a garden tableaux that looked like a Persian carpet that had been created with a combination of tiny heather plants. I had no idea that heather came in such an exquisitely varied palette of color! Then I discovered that by using a combination of heathers, you can have color in the garden all year long! There are winter blooming heathers such as Erica canaliculata and E. carnea. Spring and summer blooming heathers include E. ciliaris and E. tetralix. For added interest, there are tree heathers and spreading shrub heathers and tiny jewel-like plants such as E. carnea 'Springwood Pink'. If you have the right combination of soil and weather, you can go wild with heather! Even the foliage of the different varieties adds color interest.

The garden where I am having so much success with the heather is one that my friend Jean and I put together two years ago. Her dad had a ratty old front lawn that he was tired of mowing and asked if we could come up with something carefree and beautiful. Jean and I worked on the project for a couple of days, rototilling and amending the existing soil, laying down landscape fabric and then installing a layer of free mulch from the City of South San Francisco Park Department. After the soil prep was done, we planted the area with some tried and true favorites such as yarrow (Achillea), gaura and Salvia leucantha.

I recently ran across a small heather that was on sale at the local nursery and, as soon as I put it in the sandy soil, it took off. "Well," thinks me to myself, "this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

All heathers require perfect drainage and will not tolerate heavy clay soil. Little did I know that, by amending the existing sandy soil with organic compost, I was creating the perfect environment for heather. The light soil in combination with the cool, foggy weather is a match made in heaven!

Heather requires continuous moisture, which I have achieved with the landscape fabric and mulch. I'm telling you truly, it was a fortunate set of circumstances that led me to this revelation!

Now that I know the heather will thrive, even though it is slow growing (but extremely long-lived), I can create my own Persian carpet! But only when I can find the plants on sale.... my family motto is "Never Pay Retail."

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