Love on the Rocks: Blushing Spring Heath Sprawls Across the Ledges

Erica carnea (Spring Heath) blooms on the ledges in April

When you live on a ledgy, wind-swept hilltop, in a somewhat gothic, romantically-remote location, I suppose you are bound to invite a few Wuthering Heights comparisons now and again. Add mass plantings of erica and calluna and well, you are practically begging your bookish friends to start calling out “Heathcliff, Heathcliff” in the drifting fog (yes, eyes are rolling). The old Yorkshire word wuthering actually means, believe it or not, “turbulent weather”. And while ‘wuthering’ is certainly a good description for my climate, I think I would be more accurately cast as a quirky Burton character than a lace-collared Brönte heroine.

Soon after my arrival here, I began planting ground-covering sweeps of heath, heather and sprawling juniper in the shallow pockets between rocky outcrops on my property. Winter winds scour the ledge and pile drifts of snow all around this rugged, exposed site, so I chose tough, evergreen plants to match. I remember my friend Dan poking fun at me as I struggled across the impossible terrain with my one wheeled wagon, determined to get a start on my new garden in spite of the flat tire and other obstacles. Yes, you could say I am a bit stubborn. Of course, not everything I planted here in the first few years was successful. My gorgeous wisteria survived a brutal mid-summer move, but then fell victim to an unfortunate encounter with a backhoe. And one beautiful housewarming gift  -a rare and lovely Japanese thread-leaf maple- was defoliated and chewed to a pulp by my wild pup, Oli.  Oh and then there were the three tree peonies -magnificent luteas I’ve yet to replace – girdled by mice. But the erica and calluna? Why they’ve been so successful, you’d think this the moors. I now have an entry garden filled with various types of heath and heather, including the spring-blooming Erica carnea pictured here…

Erica carnea – Spring Heath covers the entry garden ledges

Native to the heath and moorlands of Europe, as well as similar climates in western Asia and South Africa, Ericaceae is a very large genus made up of more than 700 woody, evergreen species of shrub and tree-like plants. While there are many tender Erica species, a good number are also hardy to zone 4/5 – including the Erica carnea, photographed here in my garden. Erica carnea prefers to be positioned in an open, sunny site and it requires well-drained, acidic soil. Although most cool-climate heaths and heathers prefer slightly acidic conditions, many of species native to Europe, and the mountains of Africa and Asia, will tolerate alkaline conditions as well. Given proper air circulation and light, Erica will perform well in most garden situations, but it tends to do best in ledgy, open spots, similar to the heaths and moors where it evolved.

Love on the rocks? So far Erica and I seem to have found solid footing here on the cliff…

A mixed ground-cover planting of Erica carnea, Calluna vulgaris and Juniperus horizontalis on the ledges

Covering Ground by Barbara W. Ellis

Finding the right ground-cover to suit your landscape is not unlike finding the right floor cover for your home. It’s important that the plants suit both the climate and style of your garden. Barabara W. Ellis’ book, Covering Ground, is a wonderful source of ideas for low-maintenance, ground-sweeping plants.

Photography & Text â“’  Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, artwork, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina Harlow and/or The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without permission. Thank you!

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17 Replies to “Love on the Rocks: Blushing Spring Heath Sprawls Across the Ledges”

  1. Romany Brooks

    Roger Sandes

    BTW, I’ve really enjoyed your blog and the terrific photos of your garden! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Charlene

    Roger Sandes. I am almost too embarrassed to comment but since I would love to win this book, I will. I answered “The Secret Garden” as the name of your garden in your last giveaway. I realized my mistake shortly after posting. Oops. Happy gardening!

  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Hi Michaela,
    I tried to write this (twice) on my phone, but had to leave it. Both times, my poor little messages were set adrift into the ether… so third time’s a charm, right?
    Read you initially at lunch time, but by then it was already after noon. Regardless, I wanted to say, however belatedly, thanks for the wonderful mini-tour of the art full (double entendre fully intended) home of Mary Welsh and Roger Sandes.
    Long ago, our Sea Ranger Crew (an older version of the Girl Guides/Scouts to you) would make quilts and raffle them off; fund raising for our canoe/camping trips, so quilting holds a special place in my heart. Roger Sandes combines stories of playful realism appliqued onto detailed (some almost topographical) background work. He hits it right out of the park for me. ox Deb

  4. paspirit

    Hello Michaela,

    My entry for this week is Roger Sandes.

    BTW, thank you so much for mentioning The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. I bought it and it is fantastic – just what I was looking for because I’m going to make raised beds.

    I also bought the Felco F-6 pruner for small hands you mentioned in one of your posts. Love it!! Would like your recommendation on a lubricating oil and sharpener.

    Thanks! Paula

  5. Laurrie

    I planted both erica (darleyensis) and several different calluna varieties, and the heath has done beautifully. It bloomed richly this spring. The heather has had good years and bad. When it’s good it is a beautiful jewel-like bloomer with great foliage. But my somewhat heavy garden soil finally did them all in, they just didn’t come back after winter. Like you say, heather needs dry rocky infertile outcroppings… a condition I don’t have! But I do love these plants.

  6. Michaela

    Congratulations to Romany Brooks! I pulled Romany’s name at random this morning from all of the correct entries received.

    If you didn’t win, please try again next Wednesday. The last gift-giveaway of the month will take place next week.

    Thank you to everyone for participating. And thank you for following The Gardener’s Eden. I always love hearing from you!

    Happy Gardening,

    xo Michaela

  7. Michaela

    @ Paula – Hi there, I am just getting around to your question… sorry for the delay! I suggest you use a whetstone for sharpening. Felco sells them, but an ordinary whetstone is what I use. And for lubrication I use regular mineral oil from the hardware store. Always clean your pruners with a rubbing alcohol soaked rag, dry. Then sharpen with the oiled stone and follow with another rub down with an oily rag. Your pruners will thank you with many years of service. :)
    xo Michaela

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