It’s easy to overlook the humble hebe; it’s tough, resilient and goes about its business without any fuss or bother. That’s why idle landscapers and cash-strapped parks departments love it, unwittingly rendering the whole genus ‘uncool’ in gardening circles. But when the chips are down, hebes can be relied upon to do their stuff, tolerating salt-laden winds, pollution and unpromising soils. They routinely produce flowers during the grimmest days of the year and on into spring and summer, when they enjoy a good drenching – a bonus in the UK. In short, hebes are troupers and deserve not only to be more popular, but more adored too.
Like the rest of us mortals, hebes have an Achilles’ heel, which is frost tolerance. Hailing from temperate New Zealand they generally dislike sustained periods at sub-zero temperatures and are best afforded shelter in colder counties. Frost damage will repair itself and normally be a distant memory come summer. Hebes respond well to pruning, especially if administered in stages so that the plant can recover gradually. I grew beautiful yet vigorous Hebe salicifolia outside my very first home, where it provided superb evergreen screening from the road. It occasionally took possession of the pavement, at which point an aggressive chop was all that was needed to return the plant to willow-leaved magnificence. The emergence of long panicles of white flowers in summer was a much anticipated event.
As for the hebe in today’s photo, I’d wager it’s Hebe x franciscana, a cross between Hebe elliptica and Hebe speciosa. It’s extensively planted in Broadstairs’ public gardens and currently plastered with violet blue flowers. A variegated form, Hebe × franciscana ‘Variegata’ (H. ‘Silver Queen’) is available to anyone seeking all the bells and whistles.
If you’re not already convinced, I could mention that hebes come in a huge range of foliage and flower colours, as well as being attractive to bees and butterflies. Next time you park at the garden centre or DIY shed, don’t just open your car door into a sad, downtrodden hebe, buy one and give it some love.