March plant of the month

Attractive, well behaved, versatile and tough – this winter flowering heath is a must-have

Erica carnea 'Vivellii' at RHS Garden Harlow CarrIf you plan to pay a visit to RHS garden Harlow Carr in the period between January and March, you are sure for an impressively colourful welcome.

Carpeting and surrounding the main entrance steps descending into the garden is a cheerful patchwork quilt of winter flowering heaths.

This collection of winter flowering heaths, botanically known as Erica carnea, was initially planted in 2013 to showcase the very best varieties available at the time. 

Erica carnea is a very colourful group of heaths (also known as heathers) which range in flower colour from white, rose, pink, to deep purple, and foliage colour from green to fiery orange. As each week progresses from January onwards a different winter heath takes prominence, in the month of March Erica carnea 'Vivellii' is arguably the most striking.

Erica carnea 'Vivellii'E. carnea 'Vivellii' is a low growing evergreen shrub with fine, needle-like leaves in whorls, and panicles of small, narrowly urn-shaped purple-pink flowers that darken to magenta. It has dark green foliage with a distinct bronze tinge. It ranges in height 10–15cm; spread 31–45cm.

This AGM winning heath was first collected in the Engadive Alps, Switzerland, by Paul Theoholdt in 1906; and introduced into cultivation 1909 and is the parent of many popular winter heaths that can be seen today.

In 1960s and ‘70s at the height of the heath and heather craze nurseryman J. W. Sparkes selected and bred many great winter heath varieties from E. carnea 'Vivellii' including E. ‘Ann Sparkes’ and 'Adrienne Duncan'.

E. carnea ‘Vivellii’, along with all other winter flowering heaths, do not just need to be confined to heather beds or solely planted in the ground. At RHS Garden Harlow Carr they can be seen planted in large containers outside the entrance plaza, planted together with colourful winter stems of dogwood and willow and early flowering bulbs such as snowdrops. They also form a key component in our famous winter walk, and old winter garden planted along path edges.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.