Here is the slope at my friend's house. A beautiful bowl pond is at the top, and the land dips down from there to where the huge stump of an old oak tree marks the final drop off.
From the side, you see that large rocks hold the edge, and the slope is at first gentle.
But then it drops steeply, as you see from below looking back up the slope.
One plant that thrives in this kind of acidic, lean soil is Calluna vulgaris, or heather, and so the garden designer here has decided to blanket this steep strip of woodland edge with a tapestry of different colored heathers.
She has done several things right to create her heather garden.
First -- she tested the soil. It really is 5.0, unusually acidic even for New England. Too many of us just guess what kind of conditions we have and then write Garden Oops posts about losing plants that didn't have the right environment. Test your soil.
Second -- she went to Heaths and Heathers online to order the needed plants. They are a specialty nursery in Washington with a huge selection of heathers, and they provide really extensive education about how to grow them in different climates. Learn from experts if you're just starting out.
|Heaths and Heathers nursery in Shelton, WA|
Third -- she measured the space. Then she planned it on paper, arranging the colors in blocks, and figuring out how many she needed in what colors for the look she wanted. I would have eyeballed the area, ordered a dozen plants and then found that was too few. She ordered 35.
Heather has both beautiful jewel-like flowers and colorful foliage that changes from summer greens to fiery red or gold on some cultivars. In our winters the foliage can suffer from exposure if not covered by snow (some cover the plants with cut pine boughs) but the brightest colors intensify with a lot of winter sun.
(Thumbnails from Heaths and Heathers catalog. These are a few of the selections my friend will be planting)
Her area is well protected between the house and the woods, but I am sure she will experiment with the best way to winter her heathers. She'll need to cut back some of the branches that are shading part of the area now.
To get the rounded, dense look that will fill out a tapestry of heathers, they need to be sheared each year. Otherwise they get open and woody. But it is easily done with a pair of scissors, like giving a haircut, and it's very satisfying work.
The reason I know something about growing this plant is that I also created a heather garden years ago, but did not have the quick draining lean soil or enough acidity to make them happy. They want absolutely no nitrogen, (fertilizer will guarantee death, so don't try to acidify the soil for them with Miracid) and they need quite a bit of water, but it must drain really well. I had relatively heavy, neutral ph garden soil and it stayed clumpy damp in winter. My heather garden is gone now.
But I do grow a lovely related plant, a heath, in regular garden soil. It is Erica darlyensis 'Ghost Hills', which I thought would have ghostly white flowers or perhaps silvery foliage, but it is hot pink in bloom and has very dark green fine foliage.
This is my one success growing heaths or heathers. For a real tapestry of beautiful mounded heathers I'll head over to my friend's garden to see what very careful siting with high acidity, sharp drainage and a designer's talented eye can produce.
I'm hoping to post shots of how hers develops after the slope is planted and fills in.