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Heather Garden

Group Of People Below House Early 1900s Banner

Before the 1950's

The sandstone hill on which the Visitor Centre and A. K Bulley's (the garden's founder) family house stands were mostly covered with a thicket of gorse, bramble and broom.  This vegetation was retained by the Bulley family for the protection it afforded to the badgers and foxes.  In 1958, the decision was taken to remove the wild vegetation; primarily it seems as a method of stopping it encroaching into the more ornamental parts of the gardens.

In 1960, following trials the year earlier, planting of a new heather garden began with about 7000 plants all raised at Ness from cuttings being planted over the next three years.  By 1964 the transformation was complete with one visitor telling the then Director of the Gardens, Ken Hulme that the patchwork of resulting colour could be seen from North Wales!  In future years, conifers and birches were added to provide wind protection and the Heather Garden became one the largest collections of Heathers in the country.

Heather Gardens 1960's Banner

Heather Garden was showing signs of age

That was how the heather gardens remained, a delight to visitors until about ten years when it became inescapable the Heather Garden was showing signs of age.  Initially the top slope next to the Well Room was cleared and area used for student projects for a couple of years allowing students to experiment with a variety of planting schemes.  However, four years ago we came to the conclusion that it was time for the Heather Garden to go and the area be changed into something else. So we started the process of clearing and renovating the slope, leaving the main structure of evergreens.

What soon became apparent when starting this project was how dry and sandy the soil is on the bank and how much of a sunny climate existed in the area. This triggered the initial thoughts of planting up the first bed we cleared with Santolina and Cistus plants we propagated the previous year. Both of which thrive in such dry and sunny conditions and are relatively fast growing.

This initial planting scheme provided a fantastic instant display during the summer of that year, receiving plenty of positive comments from visitors. These then gave us the courage to expand further, so we decided we would stick to this theme and concentrate the planting on more drought tolerant Mediterranean climate plants allowing for a total overhaul of the planting theme.

Following the success of the initial replanting 

We continued to clear more of the bank in the successive years and began including different plants such as Lavender and Rosemary, which supplemented the pinks and whites of the Cistus and the yellow flowers of the Santolina. Many of the addition plants selected in the scheme self-seed throughout the bank such as Anthemis punctata, Euphorbia, Lychnis coronaria and Verbena bonariensis all of which provide a natural feel to the area as well as attracting a variety of insects. A colony of tawny mining bees like it so much they've moved in! 

New Heather Gardens 2014 Jon Grimshaw Banner

We also made the decision to remove two of the lower heather beds which were at the top of the picnic lawn.  The beds were grassed over and became part the lawn once more.  Nobody seems to have missed them and the picnic Lawn with its grass labyrinth is much improved.

Today we now see the area's second transformation paying dividends with a wash of colour throughout most of the year.  I wonder if it can be seen from North Wales? The foxes have moved back in too! Despite the fact the whole slope has now been fully transformed and the new planting really starting to fill out and maturing, the maintenance and development is still an ongoing process. The majority of the plants within the display have been propagated on site - not quite 7000 yet! This process will continue, enabling the gaps to be constantly filled in as well as allowing the opportunity to experiment with the layout of the planting year on year.

Nigel Powley, Area Technician

Andrew Lambie, Lecturer