July 24, 2017

With or Without a Hill

Calluna vulgaris - Heather

Calluna vulgaris – Heather | Credit: Wikimedia Commons – User: Willow (CC BY-SA 3.0)

That song about the heather on the hill has probably inspired a lot of gardeners to consider growing Calluna vulgaris. But you don’t need a hill to do it, just some well-drained acidic soil and a good deal of sunshine. Some heather varieties can be hardy to Zone 4, and with some winter protection such as coverings of fir boughs, they can survive quite handily. Heathers are widespread in Asia, North America and Greenland. In western Europe, they cover wastelands, sometimes growing 3 feet tall in sheltered spots.  Perhaps because of its bountiful presence, heather has some surprising economic uses. Depending on the stem size, heathers are used to make brooms, brushes and baskets. With the peat that clings to its roots, heather also can be burned for fuel.  Decades ago, Scottish Highlanders built huts of heath and heather stems cemented with a mix of peat and straw.  Hmm, the house made of heather on the hill. That’s catchy, too.