It seems only right to devote the Christmas Day blog for Advent Botany to a plant that has brightened my winter garden for many years, Erica x darleyensis. This hybrid heath was first reported from a nursery in Darley Dale, Derbyshire in the late 1800s. It is a hybrid between the smaller winter heath, Erica carnea, another of my winter favourites, and Erica erigena, the Irish heath.
Why do I love it so much? Firstly it flowers through the winter when the garden needs brightening, secondly it is one of the easiest heaths to grow and thirdly it offers a good range of colours from very greeny white through to deep rosy pinks. It needs little attention although it gains from pruning back every couple of years to keep it dense and vigorous.
Due to the ease of cultivation, long flowering season (the first varieties flower in the autumn, the last in late spring) and the compact habit this heather has become very popular. There has been extensive breeding in Europe with many new varieties appearing that vary in flowerng season, size, colour and profusion of flowers, and in the colour of the new shoots and mature leaves.
There are many varieties commonly available of which these three represent some of the variation:
‘Ghost Hills’ has pale green leaves and light pink flowers.
‘White perfection’ has bright green leaves and white flowers.
For a more comprehensive list of cultivars you might visit the Heather Society web site which lists this hybrid under three categories:
- Erica x darleyensis f. darleyensis (flowers pink)
- Erica x darleyensis f.albiflora (flowers white)
- Erica x darleyensis f.auriefolia (leaves golden yellow)
Perhaps the time is right to select a few winter heathers and enjoy a bit of flowering botany over advent.