As was the fad in the late 1800s, John Hay, Private Secretary to Abraham Lincoln, purchased more than 1000 acres with over a mile of shoreline on Lake Sunapee in Newbury, NH. John Hay built a personal, seasonal retreat which his son, Clarence, inherited in 1905 upon the death of his father. Clarence and his wife then proceeded to transform the land into beautiful gardens.
The gardens include a Rock Garden which evolved over a 10 year period, a Rose Terrace, a 100 foot perennial border, The Pebble Court (formal entry to the main house) and The Old Garden, outlined by high stone walls. It was originally a sunny garden but has been transformed into a shaded woodland of loosely maintained rhododendrons, azaleas and heathers. A more structured heather garden is located on a rocky knoll opposite the rock garden with a view of Lake Sunapee. The Northeast Heather Society first helped with the trimming of The Fells heather in April of 1996. After the devastating winter of 2006, the Fells 50 year old heather plants showed little life but fortunately the garden restoration plans included preserving the heather garden. In the spring of 2007, ten members of the Northeast Heather Society, along with Fells landscape staff, planted 90 new heathers, 15 each of 6 different varieties on the knoll. The heather garden, planned by Jeff Good, landscape manger, highlights the heather’s foliage color, texture and flower colors. All heathers were purchased from the NEHS member nurserymen who still provide plants as needed. Because of its northerly latitude, The Fells heather garden is the last trimming event of the spring season, usually early May as the temperatures warm and the rock garden is bursting with color. Well worth the trip!
The Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan is one of the largest Heather gardens on the East Coast. A fully designed and planted Fort Tryon Park complete with a Heather Garden was presented to the city of New York in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller II. The park which also includes the Cloisters Museum contains some eight miles of stone pathways, stairs, promenades and sheltered stone benches.
Beside the Heather Garden, stairs lead to the stone-walled Linden Terrace from where park visitors enjoy the shade of the Linden trees and fresh breezes coming up the cliffs edging the Hudson river some 240 feet below. The vista looking toward the opposite shore of the Hudson, now the New Jersey Palisades interstate Park, was originally purchased by Rockefeller to preserve Fort Tryon’s stunning views.
From the 1950s thru the 1970s Fort Tryon and many other horticulture treasures within the city began to decline. In 1983 the park received support from the Greenacre Foundation and together with volunteers a three-year restoration of the garden began. A fully restored Heather garden would be the heart of the project. The Northeast Heather Society is proud to have been a small but important part of the Fort Tryon Heather garden restoration by making available to the NYC Parks Dept., locally grown heathers. Since 2004, NEHS volunteers have worked with the garden staff to help with the spring trimming of the heather. It has become a tradition to trim the heathers in the park each spring to the sound of the pipes and drums of Scottish bagpipers who lead a procession of local residents enjoying the first rites of spring in the park. Come Join Us.
The heather garden at Heritage Museum and Gardens, formerly known as Heritage Plantation in Sandwich, MA. was planted in April, 1990. The garden is located on the southwest facing slope of a glacial kettle hole and is sheltered by mature trees at the rim of the hole. The original garden was designed and planted by Al Doggart who along with his wife Nelda provided the early maintenance which was later supplemented with pruning parties attended by members of the Northeast Heather Society. Initially the garden contained 237 plants with 45 cultivars of Calluna and Erica. Unfortunately after this great start the heather garden was ravaged by the severe winter weathers on the Cape and diminished maintenance to the point where the rotting Heather Garden sign was removed and not replaced.
In May of 2002 a brand new heather Garden (same location) greeted visitors to the Heritage Plantation on the opening Mother’s Day weekend. A joint effort by NEHS members who donated money for materials and plants, Heritage garden staff led by Horticulture Director, Jeanie Gillis, who prepared the soil, several nurseries who provided heathers at nominal cost and finally the NEHS planting crew and garden staff who tucked 300 heather plants into the renovated heather garden. Harry and Grace Bowen along with Judy Wicksten maintained the heather garden for several years but eventually lack of maintenance allowed the garden to decline once again. However in 2008 an NEHS member visited the Heritage heather garden and reported back that several heathers were still alive despite the lack of attention and the vagaries of winters on the Cape. This report generated a glimmer of hope and the Northeast Heather Society has renewed their efforts to maintain this garden. To continue this effort The Society needs local NEHS members who are willing to provide the yearly maintenance of trimming and keep this garden alive.
The Northeast Heather Society met at the Lasdon Park & Arboretum on November 4, 2007 to investigate the prospects of creating another NEHS supported heather garden. After viewing a few sites in the park it was suggested by garden staff to look at the old Rock Garden area. Although rock strewn and rather weedy this site came with its own little pond and a water supply close by; just what every new heather bed needs. With great enthusiasm for the rigorous job of removing rock, weeding, hand tilling while amending the soil, planting and watering, a heather garden was created in October of 2008. The NEHS members came from MA, NH, CT, VT, PA and NY to lend a hand.
Although small, there is room for expansion and established heather plantings in the existing Synoptic Garden give the visitor a fine representation of heather for their viewing enjoyment. The ritual task of trimming and mulching the heather is done every spring and is performed by NEHS members. If you live in the general vicinity of Katonah, NY or are passing through the area on the trimming date, stop by to help out. Trim dates will be posted on the “Events Calendar” tab.
This heather garden was proposed to the Town of Chenango board in 2005. The original heather garden space was to be shared with a dwarf Japanese Maple. After seeing plans and pictures of other heather beds, the town board decided to border the bed with dwarf barberry and use a dwarf Alberta Spruce and a Mugo Pine as height accents within the bed. A large rock with fossil shell imprints was unearthed during building construction and placed center stage in the heather bed. Heather selection and design was done by Mary Matwey and Bill Dowley of the NEHS with Bill supplying the plants. The soil was amended using peat moss only and therefore is not in the best condition but each new planting is supplemented with the addition of sand to the hole and surrounding soil.
The location of the bed is ideal as it is protected from northerly winds in the winter and hot afternoon sun in the summer. The main mulch material is pine needles and it has served this site well to keep down the weeds and conserve moisture. A barrier of burlap between the heathers and the sidewalk is erected each winter. This minimizes the heather contact with the salt mixture used to keep the sidewalks free of ice. Ericas were introduced to this bed in 2011 and it is hoped that these more salt tolerant plants will do as well as the Calluna.
The Town of Dickinson Highway Supervisor approached the Cornell Cooperative Extension Horticulture Dept. asking for recommendation of plants for a turn about in front of the new town hall in 2004. The initial thoughts were to use grasses which were the plant of choice at this time but after seeing pictures of heather gardens in full bloom the seed for a heather garden was planted. Using Bill Dowley’s plants, Mary Matwey and the local heather enthusiasts designed and planted the garden and even worked some grasses into the design. The town’s mulch of choice is shredded bark but experience has shown them that the material must be applied when cooled least it burn the tender heather branches. Shredded oak leaves are used for winter protection and has proven to be quite adequate for this exposed site.
This is Binghamton’s “Secret Garden” nestled behind wrought iron fencing and opened for special people and special events. The design and planting was spearheaded by Suzanne Barnes of the NEHS, aided by local NEHS members, and funded by Carol Ostrich, Director of the Library. Planted in 2009, this garden is a testament to the hardiness of the genus since even mundane maintenance must go through the proper channels to unlock the gate. Located among the bricks which form the path around the heathers you’ll find one engraved with words acknowledging the efforts of the NEHS to maintain this heather bed.
The garden was started as a two-tiered raised bed on a slope behind my house. A stonewall was built in a triangular shape. The raised garden area was filled primarily with garden soil, topsoil and smaller amounts of peat moss and coarse sand. The triangular shape protects the Erica and Calluna from strong winds during the winter. The back wall of the garage is one side and a row of Frasier fir and hemlock make up the other two sides. The garden gets limited direct sunlight during the winter and 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight in the summer. Planting of the Heather and evergreens was started in June of 2016.
In the past, I had completely covered the plants with oak leaves. This I found very labor intensive and required a lot of leaves. Last year, and again this year, I loosely packed oak leaves around the base of the plants and then covered all the plants with frost cloth. I added more leaves on top of the frost cloth to keep the cloth in place. Uncovering the plants last spring was much quicker. The plants did very well with this protection last year, especially the Erica. Hopefully, I will have the same results this year, though Mother Nature is keeping the plants well covered with the remains of our record breaking 42 inches of snow in December.
I first became intrigued by these unique and wonderful compact evergreen shrubs when my wife Jenniviere and I moved into our new home in 2017. The original garden plans from over 30 years ago included a small area of Calluna and Erica species but I don’t know if they were ever planted. I researched more to see how we could feasibly start a garden area featuring these plants. The archives of the Northeast Heather Society were a main source of information on soil preparation and suitable cultivars for our climate.
I chose to remove overgrown English ivy that had overgrown the front garden which faces northeast. I first planted a narrow strip of combined cultivars in October 2018 and I have continued to add plants. It was just expanded this fall and more will likely be added in the spring next year. Besides the main bed our other areas have been planted. Over 100 plants are in the garden now. We are classified as USDA zone 6b moderated by the effects of Lake Erie that also gives us over 80 inches of snow on average from the lake effect snow bands during the late fall and winter. Just a few miles away inland is Chardon, Ohio which averages over 100 + inches of snow and is the snowiest city in the state.
After one winter no plants were completely lost to the cold despite poor snow cover. All did very well with minimal damage. Covering last winter was limited to some extra pine straw mulch.The Erica cinereas were affected by cold burn the most but have recovered nicely. These plants have great character and are very rewarding even though the initial preparation took some effort. I know we will just have to get some more!
Every garden is unique by virtue of its creator’s plans and labors of love as well as the monetary investments. Although Donald Mackay never passed up the opportunity to buy new Heather or add to an existing grouping of heather, he delighted in embellishing his heather garden with the cuttings from near and far along with unusual native plants. Not because they were free but it was the challenge to coax the severed stems into creating roots thereby turning his shady, problematic grassy lawn into a wild field of heather. Many of the heather islands in his lawn were the result of his heather cuttings growing large enough to be seen and warrant not being mowed down with the mower. He was an avid naturalist always seeking out the untraveled path in the New England hinterlands looking for the wild heather that had escaped from the early New England settlers. To Donald, these were priceless treasures whose cuttings eventually found a home in his lawn. He never worried about the cuttings after he planted them letting them duke it out with moss, the weeds, and the grass. If they survived he took that as proof that he had found a hearty cultivar and gave it a wide berth with the lawn mower.