February is the month of love so give your garden some tender loving care by brightening it up with heather – the Horticultural Trades Association’s (HTA) Plant of the Month for February.
 
Heather is a great plant for the garden in February, bringing some much needed colour in the dark winter months.  Heather is part of the Ericaceae family and with over 4,000 varieties to choose from, there is a plant to suit everyone in every situation.
 
Heather is a fantastic plant that brings glorious pink and purples to a garden brightening up any bed, border or pot. It is such a versatile plant and the different varieties can bloom in both winter and summer. They provide an invaluable food source for wildlife throughout the year with bees attracted to their nectar and smaller creatures taking refuge in the dense close foliage.
 
Great for ground cover, Heathers are very hardy, evergreen and need little maintenance (perfect for gardening beginners).  They are best planted in beds totally devoted to themselves with plenty of drainage, not under trees, and in a sunny, south facing position.  They are also good as path liners, rockery plants and in pots.  Apart from the flower colour, heathers have foliage which changes colour throughout the year and are also perfect for pollinators such as bees.
 
Erica heathers are lime tolerant, so will therefore grow in most soil types, acid or alkaline. They will also grow in full sun or partial shade. Varieties of Erica Carnea and Erica Darleyensis provide flower from November until May, a very long flowering period, with white, pink, purple and red flowers available as well as green, yellow, gold and terracotta foliage.
 
Popular varieties recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) include:
Erica Carnea Alba Golden Starlet
Erica Carnea Alba Isabell
Erica Carnea Challenger
Erica Carnea Rosalie
Erica Carnea Wintersonne
Erica Darleyensis Albiflora White Perfection
Erica Darleyensis J W Porter
Erica Darleyensis Kramers Rote
 
Celebrity wildlife expert David Lindo (AKA The Urban Birder) is passionate about heather and getting urbanites to realise that there is a whole world of wildlife under their noses in the world's cities. Previously Head of Membership at the British Trust for Ornithology, David is the author of articles on urban birds and writes for many websites, publications and magazines including the membership publication for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

David Lindo with some heather 


On site for his photo shoot at W6 Garden Centre, London he said: “Heather is also an extremely important plant in Britain’s moorlands and heaths with 46 species of birds depending on it for feeding and breeding. My favourite bird, the Ring Ouzel - a type of thrush, is very associated with heather as is the gorgeous Dartford Warbler. They, like I, cannot live without heather.”
 
  
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is the trade association for the UK garden industry. It is dedicated to helping develop the industry and its member businesses, including most garden centres and other garden retailers, growers, landscapers, manufacturers and service providers.
 
The HTA was founded in 1899. Its key roles include: provision of advice-based services such as business improvement schemes, briefings and help lines; training, conferences and events for members; market information and research; promotions such as the National Garden Gift Voucher scheme; and working closely with government and the media to influence policy and projects.

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