I’ve always had a bit of a problem with heather in the garden. I hate seeing it dotted through a border, or worse, crammed into those narrow beds people insist in building in the tops of walls. I have inherited both. Don’t get me wrong, its a beautiful family of plants. I also know that heather is a fabulous plant for pollinators, and can be invaluable in providing colour and nectar both very early and very late in the year. I can just never quite get my head round using it in a border. I think it may be because I was brought up on holidays in North Wales and the Lake District, often walking up mountains, admiring the vast swathes of heather while snacking on bilberries at rest stops.
There is a lot of heather on Anglesey. Heather and gorse, with the occasional hawthorn sculpted by the wind into a strange lopsided shape, cover the interior of the Island. A couple of weeks ago, driving back from picking up our free composting bins (thank you Anglesey County Council!), TNG asked me what the bright purple stuff was. He’d never seen massed heather in full bloom before, so when we had to drive to a village near the Parys Mountain copper mines I suggested we swing by on our way back and admire the heather.
The copper mines at Parys Mountain have been worked since the bronze age, and in the 18th and 19th centuries this was the largest copper mine in the world. There are some underground workings, but the majority is open cast, and over the last decade funding has been made available to turn what had been used as an unofficial refuse tip into a tourist attraction and educational resource. A rather splendid viewing platform has been built, with some of the most beautiful stone walling I think I have ever seen.
I have to be honest, as I was wandering around in the lovely late afternoon sunshine taking photographs, I was planning a blog post about how heather belongs in the wild, not in gardens. After all, wouldn’t you rather see this than a sickly heather struggling to grow out of the top of a brick wall?
But I think I may be in danger of converting. The more I look at the photos I took, the more I can see how you might use heather to great effect in a garden setting. What about using heather to line a path?
OK, so it would only look glorious for a comparatively short period, but goodness what an impact.
Once I’d started looking at the photos with a different eye, I could see some great combinations of colour and form.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the small pond we have inherited in the front garden. I always associate ponds with lush plantings, and that didn’t fit with my emerging vision for this area at all. Admittedly I will never exactly have a lake, even assuming we enlarge the pond, but there is a stark beauty to the areas of water up at the mines more reminiscent of the rock pools at the beach than the lushly green ponds of the English countryside.
I don’t know where I am going with this, but I have been forced to re-evaluate my assumptions about heather and how it can be used in the garden. And TNG got to see massed heather blooming, so altogether not a bad little detour!