This is a large genus of over 700 species and hundreds of cultivars. They are all shrubs that vary from ground-hugging carpeters to shrubs that grow almost to tree-like proportions.
Although some of the larger shrubs are grown it is mainly the low-growing forms that are popular in gardens. The foliage is small and needle-like and usually grown in whorls around the stems. There is a great variation in colour with a number of golden varieties to brighten up the predominantly green forms.
The flowers are carried in clusters and are either bell- or urn-shaped. The main colour is purple, varying to pink and red. There are also a number of white forms. Generally they flower in the summer but there are also winter-flowering forms which brighten up the more drab months of the year.
Generally the heathers are acid-soil loving plants and cannot be grown on chalky soils. However there are a few cultivars that will grow in these conditions and the range extends to winter-flowering varieties as well. However the choice is quite limited.
Heathers are easy to grow. The only important thing to remember is to lightly shear over the low-growing ones after flowering to keep them compact.