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Our heather garden was built and planted in 1997, making it one of the oldest gardens at our present site. It has matured into a delightful heather garden that shows, as it was planned to do, that heathers can provide interest all year round.

David Lambie from the Speyside Heather Centre designed and built the garden for us. It is situated at the top of the garden and surrounds the header pool for the stream and pond. In amongst the heathers there are a few choice conifers to add height and a change in texture. David and Jim decided they wanted this garden to be colourful all year round so plants were chosen for their flowering time and also their foliage; some heathers have particularly colourful new growth.

Before we started planting, we checked the pH and it was about 7, which indicates a neutral soil. Heathers require a more acidic soil, so we had to make amendments to the soil. It was really important to Jim that we didn't use peat in the construction or maintenance of this garden, so instead we used sulphur chips to lower the pH. We also added composted bark to bulk up the organic content of the soil. Looking at the garden now, we know this method worked really well; you don't need to use peat to grow heathers.

Heaths and heathers are probably amongst some of the most popular plants sold in Scotland. There is such a massive range of cultivars and varieties available and most of them are incredibly hardy. Once they are established and have knitted together there are few weeds tough enough to grow through them. Add to this the fact that they need minimal maintenance and care once established and you can see why they are so popular.

Most people know that these plants need special soil - this is because they are ericaceous plants (like rhododendrons and azaleas). For the plants to best succeed they must be planted into soil that has a pH of 5.5 or less. If you've tested your soil and it does have a higher pH, don't worry. By adding sulphur chips as we did, it's possible to lower the pH and grow healthy plants.

Ideally, your heather garden should be in full sun and, contrary to common belief, heathers don't like boggy ground. When planting, space the plants so that you have about 5 or 6 to the square metre. Apply a little bonemeal, water them well and, if you like, a top dressing of composted bark will help to keep the weeds down.

There are no great, complicated rules about pruning heathers. After flowering, take a pair of garden shears and clip off all the flowering stems. This will help to encourage really shrubby growth and prevent the plants getting leggy. If the plants are pruned properly, you can expect your heathers to last for about 15 years.

Just check your soil pH now and again and keep top-dressing them with composted bark or something similar. At Beechgrove we feed ours with a slow release granular fertiliser for ericaceous plants once a year.

Suppliers:

Speyside Heather Centre
Skye of Curr
Dulnain Bridge
Inverness-shire
PH26 3PA
Tel: 01479 851396
Email: enquiries@heathercentre.com
Web: www.heathercentre.com