Hebes are one of the most desirable NZ natives for gardening. They are New Zealand's largest family of shrubs with 80-90 species occurring in nature. They are generally smaller shrubs, with interesting and diverse colour, size and form. Hebes produce masses of flowers making them sought after and desirable garden plants.
The name Hebe comes from Greek - the goddess of youth. A perfect name for such beautiful, cherished and desired plants. The value of hebes in the garden was recognised over 150 years ago when the first hebes were hybridised in England. Since then, more than 700 hybrids have been developed, with a hebe for every effect or situation in the garden.
The range of forms is amazing, from rambling ground hugging varieties, low flat shrubs, small round bushes, medium, large and even tree like forms. The range of foliage and flowers is equally diverse, with so many to choose from it can become a little overwhelming.
Hebes can be loosely categorised into three main groups:
Alpine Hebes: These are generally smaller, natural compact varieties. They usually have small leaves and in most cases the flowers are small white star shaped flowers. The best feature of these hebes tends to be the form, with the compact forms making an interesting display when planted together. As you would expect, alpine hebes are very tolerant of cold conditions, they do not mind high rainfall, but do require good drainage. They tend to do very well in the South Island and are not so suited for the warmer parts of the North Island. These are very easy care hebes, and tend to remain compact without trimming.
Large Leaved Hebes: These are the bigger bolder larger shrub hebes. The leaves are big and lush and overall they are a lot softer than the alpine varieties. These hebes produce the very showy elongated flowers that can be 10-15cm long and come in a range of showy colours from white to blue, purple,burgundy even red. These hebes tend to do a lot better in warmer climates, although certain carefully chosen varieties will also do well in Southern and Alpine climates. They prefer full sun and will not tolerate damp feet, so good drainage is essential. These hebes respond well to a light trim after flowering, and in fact need an occasional trim to remain compact.
Whipcord Hebes: These are small leaved varieties which have compressed, scale-like leaves resembling conifers. They are fascinating and beautiful but mainly only suited to colder climates. If conditions are right they are easy to grow and should require very little care.
Value of Hebes in the Garden
Hebes provide more than just aesthetic enhancement to the garden. They are very attractive to both honey bees and bumble bees providing food for long periods of time. Planting a variety of hebes will ensure flowers are available at a range of times, creating a prolonged period of food supply. Hebes also provide habitat for insect life, both boosting beneficial insects and providing food to encourage birds.
We have grown a multitude of Hebes in the past with an intent to supplying a large range. We quickly discovered that there were certain varieties that performed better in our South Island climate than others. For this reason we decided to stick to a much smaller range that was more universal and would grow well in cooler climates. Our range includes alpine and large leaved varieties that have been chosen for their hardiness and ability to survive in most South Island climates and colder parts of the North Island. Our range should be suitable for alpine to coast, and providing they are grown with good drainage they should be very easy care.