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Hebes, A Guide to Species, Hybrids, and Allied GeneraHebes, A Guide to Species, Hybrids, and Allied Genera

By Lawrie Metcalf, published by Timber Press Inc, The Haseltine Building, 133 SW Second Avenue, Suite 450, Portland, Oregon, USA, 2006, 260 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0- 88192-773-3, ISBN-10: 0-88192-773-2.

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. 9, No. 2, December 2006, p. 26-27.

I bought my first hebe in 1980, and my interest soon spread to other New Zealand plants. So I soon bought a second hand copy of Lawrie Metcalf's The Cultivation of New Zealand Trees and Shrubs (republished in 2000 as New Zealand Trees and Shrubs). This has been a constant companion, with its mixture of horticulture and botany, presented in a clear, thoughtful and comprehensive way. There was the pleasure of anticipation when I heard that Lawrie was proposing to write a book on growing hebes, the first by a New Zealander.

The book describes more than 365 species, subspecies, varieties and hybrids of Hebe and related species. It is illustrated with 135 colour photographs and 17 line drawings.

In Chapter 1, Hebes in New Zealand, Lawrie sets the scene. He points out the premier place that hebes have in their native land, both in the gardens and countryside. They even have their own society. Hebe is the largest genus of flowering plants in New Zealand, with more than 100 species - although various parts have been separated into Parahebe, Chionohebe, and controversially into Heliohebe and Leonohebe. The author shows how New Zealand's climate plays its part - subtropical in the far north through to temperate in the far south. It is surrounded by oceans which give a much more even climate than experienced in the UK. In the section 'Where Hebes are Found' Lawrie points out that hebes are found in all environments throughout their native land, from seaside to mountainside. But in very few places will there be a great variety of hebes, as most hebes are local in their distribution. Indeed he states that '.it is amazing how far one may travel in New Zealand without observing a single hebe in the wild'.

Lawrie looks at each habitat in turn describing its characteristic hebes. Thus Hebe elliptica is found growing on the coasts of the South Island. The large river valleys within mountain ranges have Hebe odora and Hebe subalpina. In alpine grasslands the whipcord hebes grow; while Hebe vernicosa occurs in the forests of the Nelson area, and the grey-leaved Hebe pinguifolia is an inhabitant of the dry mountain ranges to the north-east of the South Island.

Next he describes the features of Hebe: the variation in size, the arrangement of leaves, the prominent terminal leaf bud, and the presence or absence of a gap (sinus) at the base of the leaf bud. Some drawings to illustrate these points would have been useful. The related genera of Heliohebe, Heohebe, Parahebe and Chionohebe are described. This is followed by sections on the discovery of hebes, early breeding of hebes, and finally the classification of Hebe into ten informal groups.

Chapter 2 is entitled 'Hebes Around the World'. Here a number of Hebe Society members give their assessment of hebe growing in the UK, North America, Europe and Australia. Tony Hayter looks at hebe growing in the UK, where hardiness, the Hebe Society and the plethora of new hebe cultivars are mentioned. Neil Bell and Tom Sauceda look at hebes in North America. Hebes can only be grown in gardens in California or the Pacific Northwest, and do particularly well near the coast. Elsewhere it is either too hot in summer or too cold in winter, or both; there hebes are being sold as pot plants. Claudio Cervelli describes hebe production and use in a wide variety of climates in Europe. Melanie Kinsey says that hebes have been grown in Australia for many years, especially in Victoria and New South Wales. They are much used for landscaping and warrant their own section in many nurseries.

Chapter 3 deals with the cultivation of hebes. You would regard growing hebes in their native land as easy, but Lawrie points out the traps for the unwary. Hebes bought as a tight ball, if left to their own devices, become leggy, so they do need regular pruning and deadheading. Hardiness is rarely an issue in New Zealand, as its winters are relatively mild, compared to the UK. They appreciate good drainage and a top-dressing of mulch, and do well in either sun or semi-shade. Hebes grown in containers need good drainage, feeding with a slow-release fertiliser, and a yearly potting on, or root pruning. Those grown in open ground require much less attention, but watering might be necessary in dry periods. Any fertiliser should be applied to the surface then worked into the soil, so that it is available to the plant.

Chapter 4 covers the propagation of hebes. They grow readily from seed, but as hebes so easily crosspollinate the result may not match expectations. Semi-hardwood cuttings are best taken in early autumn, preferably from the sides of the plant. Lawrie then discusses the rooting of whipcord hebes and growing hebes as standards.

Chapter 5 deals with growing hebes in different situations in the garden. He considers how the habitat that a hebe grows in shapes its character, e.g., Hebe odora grows well in wet soils, but has to withstand high moisture loss due to strong winds, and Hebe pinguifolia has waxy glaucous leaves to cope with dry conditions. The author shows which hebes are suitable for hedges, rock gardens, ground cover, dry places, shady places, coastal areas, and damp conditions.

Chapter 6 is about the pests and other problems, and how to deal with them. Fortunately hebes don't have too many problems; the key is to have healthy hebes. Insect pests include aphids, spittlebugs, leaf-rolling caterpillars and the Hebe gallery fly - the last one occurs just in New Zealand. Next come the fungal diseases, downy mildew, fusarium wilt, phytophthora root rot, and septoria leaf spot - Lawrie outlines the methods of controlling these. Lastly he lists the physical problems that can affect hebes; drought, frost damage, poor flowering, wind scorch and rabbits etc. Drought is more of a problem for plants in containers, so vigilance is needed. To prevent frost damage mulching and a protective cloth help. Lastly, poor flowering is a more complex problem with a number of possible causes.

Chapter 7 is the largest and deals with Hebe species and associated cultivars. The species are arranged alphabetically, which makes finding a hebe very easy. However this arrangement does not group related species, which makes comparisons more difficult. The description of each hebe starts with its particular characteristics, and its relationship to other hebes, and may include notes on the various forms available, the plant's history, and its habitat. Each entry concludes with a detailed description and notes on its distribution. One that caught my eye was Hebe 'Swamp', the temporary (or tag) name for a species that grows in the Hikurangi Swamp near Whangarei, in the North Island. It has affinities with Hebe bishopiana and Hebe stricta, with mauve flowers.

Chapter 8 covers Hebe hybrids and cultivars not directly assigned to a species, and each is briefly described. Most of these plants will be known to regular readers of Hebe News, but a number will not, as the book includes cultivars from New Zealand and Australia. For instance Hebe 'Flame' has an intriguing name; it's similar to Hebe 'Carnea'.

Chapter 9 covers the Hebe relatives: Heliohebe (the paniculate hebes, Heliohebe hulkeana, H. lavaudiana, H. raoulii and H. pentasepala, and their hybrids Heliohebe 'Fairfieldii' and H. 'Hagley Park'), Heohebe (crosses between Hebe and Heliohebe), Parahebe and Chionohebe. The book concludes with a glossary and index.

This book is a worthwhile addition to those already published on hebes. The range of topics covered is wide. The text is clear and comprehensive, the photographs good and useful. I will be sure to keep it within easy reach.

We thank Tony Hayter for his permission to reproduce a version of his review originally published in Hebe News, 2006, Vol. 21, No. 3.

Lawrie's book was also reviewed in The Plantsman (published by the RHS), Vol. 3, Part 3, in September 2006.

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