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

April 21st, 2010 § 17 comments § permalink

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.

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