Thank you to students Tyler and Abby from Pacific Horticulture College for writing this blog post. Watch our blog for monthly student posts during the year!

On Tuesday, April 10th, Dave Wilson came into our class to talk all about heathers. Dave has been working on the gardens at HCP since the mid 80s. He started his career in the 1960s at BCIT doing a four-year apprenticeship. An interesting point he brought about his education was the fact that there were only men in his program and that the horticulture field used to be very male dominated. This has changed dramatically and can be observed in our class, which is made up of only 6 males and 14 females. Dave, as well as the class, was very excited about this positive change.

The day was broken down into two parts, with the morning consisting of a lecture/seminar and was followed by practical learning outdoors after lunch. Dave started the lecture off with some basic history of heathers. When Dave was doing his practicum in England, in the 70’s, he noticed that heathers were extremely prominent in the landscape. When Dave returned to BC, he was surprised to find a lack of heather availability in the nurseries. Having a passion for heathers, Dave decided to start his very own heather-specific nursery in Chilliwack, BC.

Dave’s lecture went on to describe the two Heather genera, Erica and Calluna. Both of the genera have hundreds of different species. The Calluna plants typically bloom in the summer, between July and September. Erica plants typically bloom from around January to March and are used for winter interest. While Calluna and Erica were in high demand at one point, they are quickly being replaced by bud bloomers, which have flowers that do not open and therefor are not pollinated. They do however, hold their colour longer, which is why the popularity is increasing amongst consumers.

The afternoon portion of the day was a lot of fun! The class was split into smaller groups to do various work in the heather garden. The main jobs that the students did were prune heather with shears and secateurs and do a major renovation of a portion of the garden, which included removing older heather and planting newer heather. When pruning, the students were instructed cut back the Calluna plants down hard below the flowers while staying above the old wood. The Ericas do not like to be cut back as hard and were therefore given what is referred to as the “haircut” technique. Some of the students were lucky enough to take home some of the older heathers that were removed from the garden.

By the end of the day, all of the students had learned a lot about heather. Dave was extremely knowledgeable about the plants and did an excellent job passing the information on to the students. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the day, especially the practical portion as it provided the opportunity to get your hands dirty. The exposure to heather definitely sparked interest amongst the students and PHC would be thrilled to have Dave back another day for some further learning about heather.