Plant Profiles: Hebe

Picture of Hebe 'Bronzy Baby' in a brown pot in my garden
My potted Hebe 'Bronzy Baby' after its trim. 

The continued good weather means I've been able to crack on with the annual spring cut-back here at VP Gardens. It's even been warm enough to sit outside, which in turn drew my attention to the pictured Hebe 'Bronzy Baby' next to my garden bench.

I'd always thought hebes were the large shrubs dripping with flowers often seen at seasides, but our move to VP Gardens soon re-educated me. Firstly I discovered the tight evergreen dome of H rakaiensis, which served as a neat and relatively care-free version of a box ball, and then I discovered the smaller-leaved, variegated kinds like the one pictured above.

These grow to around 2-3 feet high and provide a neat foil to some of my pots. Spring colour is green with a white edging, then the cool of winter turns them contrasting shades of bronze, pink or red depending on the plant chosen. That colour change adds to their interest, particularly if - like me - you've chosen one which is a bit shy to flower.

They can get a bit leggy, hence my spotting their need for attention. There's usually plenty of fresh growth near the base of the plant, so it's just a matter of a quick snip back of the legginess to bring the rest blinking into the sunshine.

Part of this year's Reclamation project (which I talked about on Monday), has the delicious prospect of buying new plants for the large bed at the bottom of the garden. I'll consider some of the other smaller-leaved hebes available to provide some winter colour and I'll choose ones which do actually flower in summer. They could also give some protective cool around the feet of the clematis I've decided to keep.

Let the step sitting commence!


Cultivation Notes

Hebe foliage
Click on the pic to see the
foliage in more detail
The sheer number and variety of hebes means they're a versatile garden shrub. I grow mine in containers, but they could easily be used as edging and their larger cousins used to provide evergreen structure at the back of the border.

They're suited to most soils and most of them are hardy down to -10oC, so they may need a spot of fleece and straw mulch if we have one of our fiercer winters. They can be grown in sun or shade, though they may become leggy when grown in shade - or even in full sunshine as my potted example shows!

On the whole, hebes fall into my "tough as old boots" category, so don't require a lot of care. Their flowers are attractive to bees and the blooms should be deadheaded to promote more.

Propagation can be via seeds or semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer, though see the notes in the Latin Without Tears section below about cultivars with Plant Breeders Rights.

Further Reading and Collection locations

  • There is a Hebe Society which "promotes the cultivation and conservation of hebes and other New Zealand native plants". It was founded in 1985 and their website has an A-Z, which describes 254 hebes.
  • The National Collection of Hebes is found at Plumpton College, near Lewes. The Hebe Society website also points to a number of gardens with good collections. It mentions Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset being particularly good for the smaller leaved hebes like the ones described in this post.


Latin without tears

According to Wikipedia there are over 90 species of Hebe, most of which hail from New Zealand. The genus is named after the Greek goddess of youth.

Hebes were also known as shrubby veronicas and H. 'Bronzy Baby' is an example of a cultivar i.e. a cultivated variety produced via a plant breeding programme. I've yet to have its parentage confirmed (though the author of this reference thinks its a variegated form of another hebe cultivar), so do let me know if you can add anything to this post.

Cultivars are designated by the Genus name, followed by the cultivar name in single quotes as shown above. They're usually increased by propagation (as they're often sterile or any seed produced won't come true).

My hebe has Plant Breeders Rights (aka PBR or PVR) attached to it i.e. it's illegal to propagate the plant for sale (including from seed) without a licence granted by the original breeder. 

PBRs are usually enforced for a number of years in order to allow the breeder to profit from the costs of bringing the cultivar to market. The rights may also extend to the plant's naming.

It's interesting to note that I bought my hebes labelled as H. 'Bronzy Baby', yet the power of Google has highlighted there's H. 'Bronze Baby'. It seems this is now the official name of the plants I bought and 'Bronzy Baby' is designated as a synonym
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  1. Oh, I love hebes - they seem such good natured plants, they always look nice and they don't need much fuss. I have one which is deep green in summer but over the winter the tips of the leaves have turned deep purple - it's beautiful.

    1. Hello woodscolt and welcome to Veg Plotting :) I was looking at some purple hebes in a neighbour's garden a few days ago. They look really good.

  2. I love Hebes, but sadly, Hebes don't like my garden. I have lost count of how many I have lost on our heavy clay, I don't think they like our wet winters either. Yours has a lovely leaf, maybe I should try one in a pot so that I can give it the soil that it prefers.

    1. Was it the fleshier leaved variegated one Pauline? I've had lots of problems with that one in my clay soil and it's one of the more tender ones. The ones I've featured today are more hardy, though to be fair it could be the pot growing that's solved the problem!

  3. Your hebe is lovely, very nice leaves. I have one in a pot too called 'Heartbreaker' which needs a bit of a spring trim. Thanks for reminding me :-)

    1. Hi Helen - 'Heartbreaker' is one of the ones I'm considering for the border replanting. However, whenever I see the name, I get the Dionne Warwick song on the brain!

    2. Sorry that should be Helene.


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