Hebes

With 1500mm/60″ of reliable rain falling across almost 200 days each year, I don’t really need drought-hardy plants, but when establishing a garden on sandy soil, I certainly don’t want to be dragging the hose or watering can 60m/200′ up a 20° hill just to water plants in dry weather.

There were a couple of Hebes here when I bought the house, so it’s evident that they can thrive on neglect and still look good. For this reason, I have included a few more around the garden.

This charming one is Hebe ‘Marie Antoinette’:

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Hebe ‘Marie Antoinette’

It starts as dark purple buds which open to a dark pink and then fade to white. Unlike many Hebes, this one will only get to about 80cm. It has an open habit, and benefits from pruning.

I actually cut Hebes back very hard in early spring to stop them from getting leggy.

Like this one below…already here when I bought the house, it was 2m x 2m (6′ x 6′), quite sparse and I only saw a few flowers for the whole year. I cut it back close to the ground in late spring. As you can see, it is starting to recover well:

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Unknown Hebe cultivar growing back after hard-prune

But when the summer flowers are gone, these shrubs hold their own with bright, waxy foliage year round. Like this lovely little variegated compact shrub (around 80cm) which at the moment has pretty purple flowers.

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Hebe francisana ‘Waireka’ – waxy leaves make this a star in coastal gardens

The bees and butterflies love them.

Hebes are part of the Plantaginaceae family which includes Penstemons, Linarias and Veronicas (yes, these are now in the Plantain family!!!!) as well as the more staid member, Digitalis.

Hebes are a great addition to the mild-climate garden but do need protection from frosts below about -8°C/17°F if they are to thrive (USDA zones 7b – 10b).

This certainly makes them suited to much of UK/Europe and many coastal areas of the US. If in doubt about cold hardiness, the narrow-leaf varieties are almost always more frost tolerant than the large-leaf varieties.

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Late winter flowering Hebe – unknown cultivar

These New Zealand natives aren’t fussy on soil type, are drought tolerant and many cultivars can even cope with continuous salt-spray in a coastal garden, where you often see them grown with Phormiums & Cordylines.

Given the right conditions, they are tough, undemanding shrubs that reward with pretty blooms in mid – late summer when many other shrubs are taking a siesta. They will often continue with a secondary flowering between mid autumn – early winter.

Hebes are easily propagated during warmer months from side shoots placed into gritty compost (striking within about 3 weeks; in my sandy soil, however, I just push cuttings straight into the ground in a shady spot!) – layering is also a really effective means of propagation as well.

 Happy Gardening 🙂

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22 thoughts on “Hebes

  1. Hebes are also used extensively in SoCal as you might imagine given their hardiness and drought tolerance. I have 2 varieties similar to those you show but carrying different names, H. ‘Wiri Blush’ and H. speciosa ‘Variegata.’ I haven’t tried propagating them but, in light of your description, I’ll be sure to try it.

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    • I have often admired the Hebes in California and especially how they seem to be more winter-flowering in your part of the world (I suspect that’s to do with the climate). H. ‘Wiri Blush’ is very similar to H. ‘Marie Antoinette’, I think it may come down to the shrubs habit as I have seen the two cultivars sold side by side here. As for H. speciosa ‘Variegata’ vs H. franciscana ‘Waireka’, I think the only difference is the latter is supposed to have more creamy leaf margins and a blue shade of flowers….but then again, with plants and cultivars…they could be identical!

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  2. You are very lucky to get so much rainfall. Last year, it was so dry here, that some of our hebes actually died! This year is very mild and everything is surviving well (so far, we haven’t had February yet 😉 ).

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    • They should do OK in your area, here they grow in locations like Brisbane in QLD which has very high summer humidity within the subtropical zone (USDA z10). Apparently they may get leaf spot during the worst of the heat, but should otherwise be fine

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  3. Oh I love Hebes! I have several, but I have never tried cutting any of them back. I have one (I think it is some kind of H. pinguifolia), which is just sticks on the inside, yet still good leaf cover on the outside. Was thinking about either taking it out altogether, or pruning it back – it is encroaching on our driveway, and the family is complaining. Just wasn’t sure if it would survive such an assault. Do you think it would?

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    • I’m pretty brutal with Hebes as I find the larger varieties (over 2m) can become leggy after about 10years. With the low growing ones, like H pinguifolia, I would first take the deadwood out and no more than one side of the live stems in the first spring and see how it responded. If it grew back, then I would take the other side the following spring (after all frost danger has passed)

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      • I’m not sure it’s a pinguifolia – it just has those bluish green leaves. It’s been in the ground for about 7 years, I think, and it is about a meter high/wide. Considering the harsh winters we had in 2008-9 and 2013-14, it’s doing pretty well, I think. I’ll wait until after frost, and give it a whirl! Thanks Matt! 🙂

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    • I think zone 5 is a tad too chilly for these somewhat tender plants. Some Hebe varieties are reported to be able to withstand up to -18C/0F, but even still, in zone 5 that would mean growing it in a very sheltered south facing wall (and probably having to cover it during the worst weather).

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    • I’m really unforgiving with Hebes, I’ve hard-pruned quite a few (albeit only the larger varieties) without any losses. I think the only rule I follow is to keep them watered after pruning and then give them a regular liquid feed such as seaweed or comfrey solution once they start to re-sprout

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  4. You have a nice little collection of them and they do seem to enjoy your climate and care! I have one of the variegated hebes overwintering in my garage and it is definitely not excited about my lack of care. You’ve inspired me to see if it’s not too late to perform a rescue operation!

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