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Calluna - the Ling or True Heather

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Calluna heather

Consisting of but a single species, Calluna vulgaris, and being particularly picky in its cultural requirements, this genus of plant would not appear at first glance to have much general appeal to the gardener. However, it is well-behaved, evergreen, and its perennial ground cover is a highly prized commodity, particularly if selection can produce healthy cultivars in a broad range of foliage hue beyond the basic dark green. This becomes priceless if combined with an attractive floral display during that difficult late summer lull.

Habit

Calluna is an evergreen, fully hardy bushy shrub which grows up to 24" (30cm) in height though it is generally more compact amongst the cultivars. Foliage may be any shade of green, the autumnal hues of yellow and russet, or even grey. Spikes of urn-shaped single or double flowers run from white, through pink and mauve to ruby and deep purple, appear in mid-summer and persist until late autumn.

Cultural Requirements

Native to the open uplands, these plants create a superb carpet for a moist but free-draining sunny bank.

Preferred Soil Conditions

Calluna vulgaris is a calcifuge (lime-hater) and therefore must be planted in soil that is inclined towards the acidic. Its mesh of fine roots do not run deep and are easily damaged by over enthusiastic hoeing or soil compaction. Sandy soils are optimum though these will benefit from the addition of organic matter to help improve moisture retention. Additionally, substantial amounts of grit should be added to heavier soils to open up the soil texture, admitting air, improving drainage, and resisting compaction.

Propagation

Propagate by softwood cuttings or layering in the summer.

Pruning

Lightly prune to shape, removing previous years flower spikes, as new growth begins in spring.

Selected Species and Varieties

Calluna heather

All the plants listed below have a dark green foliage unless otherwise stated.

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Allegro' - A taller cultivar with burgundy flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Anthony Davis' - Grey leaves and white flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Beoley Gold' - Golden foliage and white flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'County Wicklow' - Compact with pink double flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Darkness' - Compact with crimson flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Elsie Purnell' - Spreading with grey-green leaves and double, pale pink flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Finale' - Dark pink flowers late in season

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Gold Haze' - Golden foliage and white flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'J.H.Hamilton' - low-growing with double, salmon-pink flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Joy Vanstone' - Gold turning bronze foliage and mauve-pink flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Kinlochruel' - Compact with many, large white flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Mair's Variety' - White flowers on long spikes

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Mullion' - Spreading cultivar with lilac flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Orange Queen' - Golden foliage and mauve flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman' - Golden foliage turns red in winter, with lilac flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Silver Queen' - Spreading cultivar with deep lilac flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Sister Anne' - Grey leaves and pale lilac flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Tib' - Early double deep pink flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'White Lawn' - Low, creeping cultivar with white flowers

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Wickwar Flame' - Multiple autumn hues and lilac flowers

Garden Virtues

Calluna is low maintenance, and serves as both a multi-purpose ground cover and edging plant. It is attractive throughout the year.

Versatility

You can:

  • Carpet a bank with drifts of several contrasting cultivars to produce a multicoloured tapestry.

  • Highlight and define purple-leaved specimen shrubs such as Acer palmatum 'Garnet' with encircling yellow or grey leaved cultivars.

Pleasing Associations

Vertical feathery flower spikes of most cultivars mix well with similar forms.

  • Astilbe chinensis 'Pumila'
  • Heuchera micrantha 'Palace Purple'
  • Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow'
  • Verbascum 'Raspberry Ripple'

Botanical Details

Calluna is often confused with the heaths Erica, and bell heathers Daboecia.

Family

Ericaceae - this huge family includes many of the most well-known and rewarding of flowering shrubs. Like Calluna vulgaris, most prefer moist, acidic conditions.

Related Genera

  • Andromeda - Bog Rosemary
  • Arbutus - Strawberry Tree
  • Arctostaphylos - Manzanita
  • Daboecia - Bell Heather
  • Enkianthus
  • Epigaea - Mayflower
  • Gaultheria
  • Gaylussacia - Huckleberry
  • Kalmia - Calico Bush, Sheep Laurel
  • Leucothöe
  • Phyllodoce
  • Pieris
  • Rhododendron - inc Azalea
  • Vaccinium - Blueberry, Bilberry, Whortleberry
  • Zenobia

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