Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Pacific Northwest Gardens - Hebe for All Seasons

"Hey! Why doesn't that boxwood smell like cat pee?"

This was a question posed to me by a friend as we passed a neat little evergreen hedge that outlined a flower bed. My friend is a gardener, but she's new to the Pacific Northwest. Her dislike of boxwoods is nothing personal, she simply doesn't like the smell of them or having to shear them in order to maintain their shape. She was delighted to learn that Hebe can give you a similar formal look without all the work. The Hebe hedge in the picture on the left is Hebe buxifolia.

In fact, Hebe is also relatively new to the Pacific Northwest. It's a small (2-5') evergreen shrub that's native to New Zealand, and it comes in different shapes and colors.

Unlike boxwood, however, Hebe has showy flowers. Flower color depends on variety--they can be white, lavender, or reddish, but the red flowers are on less hardy varieties. Flowers appear in clusters up and down stems, and some varieties bloom in the spring and again in late fall. A few kinds of Hebe have variegated leaves or leaves that turn a bronze color in the winter.

The North Island of New Zealand has a maritime climate that's similar to Washington, Oregon and Northwest California coastal regions (USDA Zones 7-10), so many plants that do well there also do well here. Hebe's native habitat, however, seldom has temperatures below freezing, and summer temperatures are slightly cooler and more humid than U.S. temps. Therefore, a particularly cold winter or hot summer can damage or kill them here.

The rule of thumb is that Hebe with small leaves tend to be relatively hardy in regions west of the Cascades, but varieties with larger leaves should be placed in protected locations, for example near your house or out of the wind. They like coarse, well-drained soil, and they do need water in the hot, dry summer months. They also like at least some sun, so it's best suited for sunny spots, similar to where you would plant roses.

If you'd like to learn more about different varieties of Hebe that are for sale in the Pacific Northwest, check them out on our web site: