Hebe News – Article 1

A Few of my Favourite Hebes

To parody the line from the musical which one either loves or hates, these are a few of my favourite hebes which I would like to share with you. Firstly, I think it’s time we put to rest the question of nomenclature as this applies to hebes. Here in New Zealand there is mounting acceptance for a return to Veronica with Hebe being relegated to synonymy. Both the Christchurch and Dunedin Botanic Gardens are now labelling all hebes with Veronica as the principal generic name. So, with the exception of this article I shall in the future revert to Veronica albeit not with good grace. And finally, does that mean we have to change the name of our Society?

As you work through my musings you will see I have not included any cultivars or plants of hybrid origin. I have deliberately excluded these, not because of any dislike on my part, but because I always like to promote the qualities of the species in their own right.

Hebe evenosa – Plate 1 This species is confined to the Tararua Ranges in the lower half of the North Island. I collected this particular form on the slopes of Mount Holdsworth for its crisp green leaves and an, abundance of pure white flowers, which has a lower than average stature: a very hardy species that does well for me in both full sun and light shade.

Hebe subalpina – Plate 2 A handsome form I collected from the Blackbirch Range here in Marlborough, South Island. It differs from the usual form of the species by the lighter coloured almost gold foliage with pink tips which top the unopened flower buds. Unfortunately, under cultivation I find the plant to be reluctant to flower with the same enthusiasm as the parent. So, taking Will Ingwersen’s advice from many years ago I am trying it in several locations until I find the ‘right spot’.

Hebe armstrongii – Plate 3 This plant was photographed behind Lake Tennyson in North Canterbury, South Island, amongst a multitude of herbs which cover the slopes behind the lake. I admire the old-gold foliage dispersed with small white flowers which are borne at the ends of thread-like branchlets. In cultivation, I have found the plant likes a well-drained, but moist site, in full sun where it can spread without too much competition; the latter surprising me when one considers how tightly packed it is with its neighbours in the wild. If you only grow one whipcord hebe, this is the one to cultivate.

Hebe pinguifolia – Plate 4 For many years I have been fascinated by the many forms of this species. The plant shown was collected on Fog Peak in the Porter’s Pass region of North Canterbury. From prostrate forms growing on Blackbirch, to half metre-high plants with striking blue foliage found on the Craigieburn Range (also in North Canterbury), these are plants that can be selected for the larger shrub border, rock garden or large trough.

Hebe decumbens – Plate 5 Like the previous species this hebe also intrigues me with its many forms and leaf details. The ‘normal’ form is a plant up to 30–40 cm high with purplish-black stems, and elliptic leaves with red margins. However, I have collected forms in which both the stems and leaves are apple green and lack the red margin.

In his book on hebes, Lawrie Metcalf mentions that this diversity can be seen at Hell’s Gate alongside the Wairau River in what is a relatively small growing area. I can attest to this having collected several differing forms on one small rock face adjacent to the access road.

The plant in the accompanying photograph expresses this diversity in a spectacular way. First and foremost, it is completely prostrate never growing above 25 mm in height, and instead of the usual linear leaves this plant has rounded leaves, but with the usual dark stems and red margins. I have observed it growing as far afield as Jack’s Pass in North Canterbury and on Mount Robert in the Nelson Lakes National Park, though not common in either localities. A superb ground cover which in time will cover over a square metre completely supressing any would-be invaders including Jack Russell terriers!

Hebe lycopodioides – Plate 6 Another whipcord from the drier mountains of Canterbury and Marlborough. A mat-forming species that is ideally suited for the rock garden, low wall or large trough. Not always easily propagated from cuttings, especially when collected from the wild, it is never-the-less well worth the challenge to cultivate. Again, there are several differing forms associated with foliage colour and it would be worthwhile to search for these and bring them into cultivation.

Heliohebe lavaudiana – Plate 7 Last but not least is this charming sun- hebe shown here growing on ‘Big Rock’ in the Orton Bradley Farm Park below Mount Herbert on Bank’s Peninsula, where it is endemic. Not as showy as its more spectacular cousins (Heliohebe raoulii or Heliohebe hulkeana) it is never-the-less a delightful plant which has been one of my favourites for over fifty years. Not long lived in cultivation unless one is lucky enough to strike the perfect locality which in my experience should be full sun, with low soil fertility and watered sparingly during summer months. It is ideal for either the rock garden, large trough or border frontage. Fortunately, it propagates easily from either seed or cuttings, so I always make sure I have a few on hand as replacements for myself or to give away to other gardeners.

In conclusion, this is far from an exhausted list of my favourites hebes, as with all avid collectors I find myself loving them all including the hybrids and cultivars. Maybe in the future I can share a few more with you.

Chris Gill

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