"I have plucked this sprig of Heather"

March 31, 2011 Panayoti Kelaidis , Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

So begins a poem by the great 20th Century French Poet Guillaume Apollinaire (see below). I hasten to point out that the plants depicted (blooming right now at Denver Botanic Gardens) are technically not heathers (Calluna vulgaris--a single species from Northern Europe) but heath (Erica--an astronomically larger group with hundreds of species mostly in South Africa). They're all very closely related, so let's not get too technical with common names, now. The pictured species from central and eastern Europe (Erica carnea) is notable for many reasons: it is by far the  hardiest of heathers, the one that loves limy soils and thrives in Colorado with only a modicum of supplemental irrigation: and best of all it blooms much of the late winter and spring.   

Erica carnea 'Vivelli' in Rock Alpine Garden

I've been disappointed in a few plants this spring: some of the bulbs have passed too quickly, and with our polar cold (-22F at my house) there has been winter damage, albeit far less than I feared. But the winter heaths are simply spectacular. I am distressed that plants that thrive so manifestly, that we have shown off so superbly at Denver Botanic Gardens for so many decades have literally languished in undeserved and pitiful obscurity, while Box Stores and even our noble local garden centers stock so many plants (how shall I put it tactfully?) of lesser merit. Considerably lesser merit....ahem!

Fear not! You can buy these from many sources mail order! A great way to get plants, by the way (and with Paypal and the new convenient computer programs, you can be bankrupt in no time at all!). If you didn't get it, I linked the very best source subliminally at the start of this paragraph...

Now let's get back to literature: clear your throat, lean back and proclaim (in your very best French):


J'ai cueilli ce brin de bruyère L'automne est morte souviens-t'en Nous ne nous verrons plus sur terre Odeur du temps Brin de bruyère Et souviens-toi que je t'attends


I have plucked this sprig of heather /   Remember herein that autumn has died /  We shall never again see one another  /  Whiff of that time--a sprig of heather / And I still wait for you--remember! 

Guillaume Apollinaire




Heath and Heather in CO

I would like to try growing some Heath or Heather in CO under some pine trees. Which varieties do you recommend at 6100 ft?

The winter heath, Erica carnea

In reply to by Elaine Marion (not verified)

The winter heath, Erica carnea, is by far the hardiest and best heather for Colorado. We have 39 year-old mats of this species in several color forms that have thrived at Denver Botanic Gardens all that time with no die back. It doesn't even require an acid soil (it often grows on limestone in nature). I have seen it carpeting the woodlands in Switzerland's national park--I'm sure it would grow well at your elevation and take some shade. That said, it seems to love the full sun provided it gets some irrigation. It is not a xeric plant, but I think it would take it drier in the shade. I am especially fond of this species because it blooms in late winter. Sometimes flowers open in January, but are always superb in March and early April for us in Denver. It may be later in a snowier garden. If you do live in the Ponderosa zone and have a slightly or very acid soil on granite, it is possible that you can grow quite a few other Heathers as well. They don't do well in Denver's alkaline soils and hotter conditions. If you do have acid soil, the true heather (Calluna vulgaris) willl likely thrive for you, and possibly the autumn heath, Erica vagans--both are very cold hardy. Erica tetralix, which blooms in summer, is extremely cold hardy but needs acid soil and moister conditions. These are the commonest and hardiest of heathers--if you were to design a garden with these using various foliage color selections and a variety of color forms you would have a very colorful, evergreen garden that blooms almost every day of the year (one species or another). They would do best with regular watering however--since most come from Western Europe that has regular rains. Hope this helps!


I want to buy hardy pink Heather to plant in containers

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Sign up for our e-newsletters!