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Gardening with HebesGardening with Hebes

By Chris and Valerie Wheeler
Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, United Kingdom, 2002, ISBN 1 86108 2916, paperback, 149 pages 210 275 mm, $NZ59.95.

Review by Tony Hayter (aj.me.hayter@boltblue.com)
The Hebe Society (UK)
Reproduced with his permission from
The New Zealand Garden Journal (Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture), Vol. 5, No. 2, December 2002, p. 20.

Chris and Valerie Wheeler founded Siskin Plants, a nursery specialising in dwarf plants, in the aftermath of the Great Storm of 1987. They hold the National Collection of Dwarf Hebes. The business has recently been sold, but they will continue to hold the national collection, and sell a wide range of dwarf hebes by mail order.

The introduction to this book states that its aim is to give ideas on how to enhance the garden with hebes, and practical advice on growing and maintaining hebes. Hebe is a diverse genus, with a hebe for most situations in the garden. Their popularity has steadily increased over the last 20 to 30 years, which has led to an increased interest in breeding hebe hybrids, and a correspondingly large number of new introductions. Opposite the introduction there is a full-page photo of a single raceme of Hebe 'Nicola's Blush'. This stunning photo is the first of many. In fact, this book is full of excellent photos, beautifully produced and full of practical information useful for anyone who grows hebes.

In Chapter 1, "Origins and Characteristics", Chris and Valerie give an introduction to New Zealand and its plants, of which Hebe is the largest genus. They state that hebes are found also in Australia, although I think they are referring to parahebes. They then examine New Zealand's wide range of habitats, and show that hebes fit into all of these. The suitability of hebes for growing in the northern hemisphere is discussed, and is followed by notes on the breeding of new hebe hybrids. The authors describe the various forms of hebe flowers, hebe growth habits, leaves, stems, winter colour and hardiness. Again these characteristics are shown in colour photos.

In Chapter 2, "Using Hebe in the Border", the authors move into the garden. They start the chapter with two large colour photos, Hebe 'Midsummer Beauty' and Hebe salicifolia, which certainly grab your attention. They then discuss the use of hebes as an evergreen backbone to borders, especially their importance in winter, when all herbaceous plants have died down. The wide range of hebe leaf colour is important, and here the more highly coloured new growth is mentioned. The authors examine hebes in new borders, the wide variation in size and its importance, uses for low-growing hebes, and the use of hebes as a backdrop for other plants, statues or containers. The chapter ends with the authors showing how to combine hebes with other plants, and two suggested planting schemes. Both schemes are illustrated with double page, colour sketches.

Chapter 3 deals with hebes for rock gardens and raised beds. Their evergreen foliage is again used as a green background, and a contrast with herbaceous alpines. After covering the cultivation of hebes in rock gardens and raised beds, they suggest two planting schemes, both illustrated with double page colour sketches. In Chapter 4, Chris and Valerie demonstrate which hebes to use for ground cover, as well as their cultivation.

In Chapter 5, the authors compose a symphony of hebes. They look at the points you should consider when planning a bed consisting of hebes alone. These include contrast of foliage, and the scale and shape of the planting. They end the chapter with examples, using tables of hebes, and in double page, annotated, colour drawings.

Chapter 6 is about hebes in containers. Container gardening is increasingly popular, with many variations possible in size and positioning. The smaller hebes are best for containers, the larger ones quickly outgrowing the space available. The authors consider the types of container available, the choice of hebes for foliage and flowering, the use of frost tender hebes, hebes in combination with other plants, and lastly hebes in sinks. These themes are demonstrated with three double-page, annotated, colour drawings.

In Chapter 7, Chris and Valerie cover all aspects of the cultivation of hebe hedges, using large, medium and small hebes. The hedges are nicely illustrated with colour photographs. Indeed, there is a full-page illustration of one of the best hebes, Hebe rigidula, which grows very well in my garden.

Chapter 8 covers hebes as standards, a topic on which there have been several articles in Hebe News. The techniques for creating standards are illustrated for Hebe rigidula, although larger and smaller hebes can also be grown as standards. The authors also describe topiary for hebes, i.e., growing them to a specific shape, such as a sphere, cone, or as a ball on a stem.

Chapter 9 is about the cultivation of hebes, and is one of the most useful chapters in the whole book. The authors deal with topics such as the best position to plant hebes, how to plant them in the border and in a container, watering and feeding, and pruning and propagation. The chapter ends with a troubleshooting section, the effects of drought, wind scorch, frost damage, downy mildew and aphids. Again the excellent colour photos show you which problem you have, and the text tells you how to deal with it.

The last and largest chapter describes one hundred hebes, many with an accompanying photo. The authors note particularly successful plant combinations with each hebe.

Both Douglas Chalk and Graham Hutchins have written books on hebes. These have a strong botanical flavour, and are more useful to the hebe aficionado. The International Register of Hebe Cultivars by Lawrie Metcalf is a very useful exploration of old hebe cultivars, but is not a guide to cultivating hebes. If you wish to learn more about growing hebes, and how to use them in your garden, this is the book for you.

A version of this review appeared in Hebe News 17(4): 23-25

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