Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Plant of the Week: Hebe

I believe it's pronounced Hee Bee. At least that's what I say and what everyone I know says. However, taxonomists have changed the genus to Veronica which I can understand because the flowers look very similar to the herbaceous Veronica and it's the reproductive parts that taxonomists use to classify plants. But most of us are still calling them Hebe and we're more interested in the foliage anyway.

My first encounter with Hebe came years ago when visiting the sadly now-defunct Fry Road Nursery. They sold a bunch of different Hebe species and varieties as small, rooted plugs that I would bring home and grow on in larger pots until they were big enough to get planted in the ground. Not always would they survive but that's the way it goes with gardening. 

One of my favorite Hebe is a long time survivor. H. albicans 'Pink Elephant' looks its most dramatic in winter. This first photo was taken several years ago when Pink Elephant was a baby. 

Hebe albicans 'Pink Elephant' as a small child, notice Hebe 'Shamrock' on the right. It didn't survive

Check out the leaf colors.

Hebe albicans 'Pink Elephant' this winter

 I need to tip prune it this spring so it will get more bushy. I've been negligent.

Hebe albicans 'Pink Elephant' 

Here is a wider shot of the Hebe situated in this bed, photo taken yesterday.

Below is a crappy photo of 'Pink Elephant' taken in the summer to show you how ordinary the foliage looks during this time of the year.

 And one more photo taken last summer. See the red circled Hebe? It's easy to miss in summer.

Hebes are compact, evergreen shrubs whose native lands are Australia New Zealand. They won't survive cold winters but do really well in the Pacific Northwest. Well, I should clarify. The small-leaved Hebes will do fine with our winters. The rule is, the smaller the leaf, the greater the likelihood it will survive in our climate while the larger-leaved varieties are better suited for the coast and Zone 9 winters. 

Not all Hebes are as colorful as 'Pink Elephant.' However, Hebe 'Red Edge' is a close second. Obviously named for the red margin on the gray-green leaves. It's actually more magenta than red though. See it below.

Hebe 'Red Edge'

Hebe 'Red Edge'

Hebe 'Red Edge'

Below, Hebe 'Broughton Dome' is probably the tiniest of the small-leaved Hebes. It looks like a conifer. No fancy other colors here. Just a gorgeous silver-green.

Hebe cupressoides 'Broughton Dome'

 Below is Hebe buxifolia (I think) or "Boxwood Hebe". It has been here for probably five years.

Hebe buxifolia
It looks the same in both summer and winter. It makes an easy, year round, low growing presence in the garden. Mine is in mostly shade but it does equally well in full sun. 

Hebe buxifolia photo taken today

The below photo was taken in May of 2014, not long after I planted it. This gives you an idea of how fast it grew.

The Hebe is on the far right bottom beside the log.

Another Hebe in my garden is Hebe sutherlandii. It has gray-green, small leaves and also looks fantastic all year. 

Hebe sutherlandii

Hebe sutherlandii as a baby, next to Weigela 'My Monet' (2010)

Hebe sutherlandii

My Hebe 'Quicksilver' is still really small. I bought it in 2017 and it appears to be a slow grower.

Hebe pimeleoides 'Quicksilver'
 Tiny gray leaves on elongated stems make it a cool ground cover for rock garden areas.

Hebe pimeleoides 'Quicksilver'

Hebe pimeleoides 'Quicksilver'

I bought two little Hebes at a nursery in Eugene last year. They were not labeled so I'm guessing on their specific identities. Please correct me if I'm guessing wrong.

On the left is Hebe 'Emerald Gem' . On the right is Hebe buxifolia 'Nana'

Hebe 'Emerald Gem'

Hebe buxifolia 'Nana' is smaller leaved than the regular Hebe buxifolia.

Hebe buxifolia 'Nana'

I won't bother you with all of the Hebes I've killed. But now that I've gotten better about protecting cold-sensitive plants, I'd like to try again to grow some of the larger-leaved, summer blooming Hebes. Perhaps 'Great Orme'. My earlier experience with that plant was a success until it wasn't. I can blame that colder than average winter but if I had protected it, maybe it would have lived. As with many plants, I'd like another chance.

What is your experience with Hebe?


  1. Hebe has a reputation with some folks here as being difficult and I've had a few losses over the years but, as you experienced, my main issues were with the larger-leafed specimens, like H. andersonii 'Variegata', which is hanging on by a thread. Ditto for 'Grace Kelly'. On the other hand, 'Wiri Blush' has been happy in my back border for 7 years - the foliage is attractive, though not exciting, but the flowers are lovely. My 'Quicksilver' is also doing fine but my favorite is 'Purple Shamrock'. It's low-growing but the variegated foliage is beautiful (especially during what passes for winter here) and the flowers are a bonus. I'd love to find your 'Pink Elephant' which I've never seen here.

  2. I love them - they are one of my great discoveries since moving here. I've had mixed results and have lost a few but I have some successes. I have 'Great Orme'. It is the largest. I added one last year that has deep burgundy foliage and is very pretty. The name escapes me this early in the morning.

  3. When we first moved here, I discovered a bunch of different ones at the neighborhood grocery store of all places. Thrilled with their geometrically positioned leaves, I bought at least eight of them - all different - to try out. Some of the larger leaved ones (as you mentioned) perished in the first colder-than-usual winter, but some hung on for years. I only removed them when they started dying back from the inside. I suppose if I had tip pruned (as you suggested), they may not have done that, but.... live and learn. And dang - I would find tip pruning that Pink Elephant in all its glory, terribly difficult. It's just lovely!

  4. I remember seeing many beautiful hebes on garden tours in milder climates. And the plant is sometimes included in bouquets and floral cuttings at retail outlets here in the north. It reminds me of some of the sedums, which I also enjoy. Thanks for all the great information and the beautiful photos of these plants in your garden.


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