When most plants are hibernating, you can always still rely on winter heather to bring some colour to your garden, even if it’s snowing.
Small flowers yet plenty of colour - that’s the secret of winter heather (officially called Erica carnea). This small evergreen shrub blooms with white, pink, red, purple and gold flowers. They’re quite small, but because there are so many of them, winter heather still brings plenty of life and colour to your garden. The plant is between 20 and 50 cm tall, and can be planted in beds, whereby they have more effect in groups than on their own. Winter heather also works well in containers, (hanging) baskets and pots. The flowers bloom until April. If you still want heather in your garden after that, you can use summer heather (Calluna).
Winter heather is a member of the heather family (Ericaceae) and particularly occurs in the cooler parts of Western Europe. There are some 860 species, and it’s a survivor that can even thrive on the coast. The plant provides food for chickens, goats, sheep and other livestock. Sheep in particular love it: they nibble off the shoots and so keep fields of heather in top condition as living lawnmowers.
The Latin name Erica means ‘brush’; in the past heather branches that had finished flowering were tied together to use for sweeping.
Heather symbolises independence, because the plant can survive under difficult conditions. In Celtic cultures it also represents being lucky or wishing someone luck.
In the Middle Ages heather was used as a fuel, mattress filling and for making dye. Nowadays, heather honey is a particularly well-known heather product.