Hebe Survey at Chickadee Gardens

In the garden I rely on four genera of evergreen plants to keep it interesting and lush year-round. Hebe is one of the four, the others being arctostaphylos, which we explored last time, as well as cistus and ceanothus. Hebes are evergreen shrubs that primarily come from New Zealand, and they come in a range of leaf color and shape as well as overall size. Most do flower in shades of purple, white, and pink, although they are better appreciated for their foliage and form. I have many hebes throughout my gardens. Some are short, groundcover types while others are growing taller even as we speak, becoming large shrubs. Let's dive into this diverse genus of evergreen shrubs, a favorite and a staple at Chickadee Gardens.

In this first photo there are four different hebes. Can you spot them all? On the left side of the path are two dome-shaped Hebe 'Sutherlandii', a gray green perfectly mounded dome of ease and beauty. Foreground bottom in the center is the silver Hebe 'Quicksilver', a black-stemmed beauty that has more of a prostrate habit. On the bottom right is Hebe 'Karo Golden Esk', and behind it is Hebe cupressoides.

I have attempted to arrange these photos from smallest species to the largest. First up is Hebe 'Wingletye', a prostrate form with glaucous foliage and pretty purple flowers in spring.

Once more from a wider shot, it is slightly mounded with a south-facing aspect. This particular plant is about 8" x 24". Hebes in general prefer sun and well-drained soil.

Here it is in full bloom, although the flowers are a bit faded. They were much darker purple when they opened. Although this is lovely, I admit I am primarily an admirer of foliage. Hebes are identifiable by their four perpendicular rows of leaves in opposite pairs. Difficult to see in this example, we'll look at others.

A slightly taller but still prostrate hebe is Hebe 'Quicksilver' with interesting black stems as it ages and tiny silver foliage. It's very difficult to photograph effectively, but it is none the less charming.

Hebe 'Quicksilver' in bloom, something that doesn't happen regularly for me. This particular hebe has proven to be incredibly hardy having been through many snow and ice events with no real impact. I have been told by many hebe experts that as far as hebe hardiness is concerned, the smaller the leaf the hardier the plant. It's likely a generalization, but for me it has proven to be true.

Hebe glaucophylla, a rescue from the nursery that has actually grown well. In fact, many rescue hebes have bounced back from near death after pruning out the dead bits and getting them into the ground. They can be surprisingly resilient in that way, but they can also go belly up from time to time. This species is said to reach somewhere between 15 - 30" in height, a wide range indeed. I will report back in a few years' time to see what this little one has become. White flowers on this one and the specimen at Joy Creek Nursery is about 15" high and spreading so that's what I am hoping for here.

Hebe cupressoides 'Boughton Dome' is a dwarf version of its straight species. The foliage is super tiny, and as the name suggests resembles a dwarf conifer. This one is another rescue from the nursery and has remained very small for me, but as a full grown shrub they are quite attractive with bright foliage.

Now we're getting into the small-shrub sized hebes. This is Hebe 'Red Edge' in a photo taken this week.

A detail of the foliage reveals the red edges and also the foliage habit - four perpendicular rows of leaves in opposite pairs.

In colder weather and also with new growth the red really stands out.

To prove these little powerhouse shrubs can handle some inclement weather, I include this shot from February.

Hebe diosmifolia in bloom in late spring. This dark green foliaged shrub is in a good amount of high overhead shade and performs beautifully in this location. It is about 3' tall and wide.

Its clean white flowers are a bonus.

Photographed this week in a more subdued setting. Still, its fresh green foliage looks nice and adds color to surrounding beds that contain many deciduous plants.

Hebe buxifolia, which has bounced back from a rather lot of dieback. I pruned out the dead stems and moved it to a more well-draining location (where you see it now) and it has thrived. This does get covered quite a bit on the back end by an Acanthus mollis in summer, and those areas where no sunlight reaches it there are dark dead areas. In winter when I cut back the acanthus, air and light get in there and the hebe rebounds nicely.

Hebe recurva 'Boughton Silver' is a small shrub at about 30" tall and as wide. Its leaves curve back as noted in its species name. The flowers are white and lovely in spring, here it is pictured in December with spent flower spikes. 

Hebe sp. 'From Western Hills' as in Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, California. 

This is a big favorite of mine, it's so easy and forgiving as well as pretty with silvery foliage and a good shape. Here it is in bloom in early summer with pale lavender white blooms. It is reliably hardy with silvery foliaged appearance. 

The ever faithful and gorgeous Hebe pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii' is a nearly perfectly rounded shrub with the palest green silver foliage. This is another that has been incredibly hardy for me and forgiving with less than ideal air circulation. This one wins the award for "most formal looking hebe without lifting a finger" shrub.

It is about 30" high and a little wider. As the Xera Plants website notes this wants a little summer water, which is true of many hebes. In fact, it does much better coming upon a heat wave if it's been adequately watered well before.

Hebe odora 'Purpurea Nana' - from the Joy Creek website: 

We originally received this hebe as Hebe anomala 'Purpurea Nana' and have grown it by that name for several years. It has proven to be one of the hardiest hebes in our garden and we have come to enjoy its very colorful foliage and its upright habit. Lawrie Metcalf in his book Hebes: A Guide to Species, Hybrids, an Allied Genera states that the species "anomala" is a synonym for "odora." Even though he does not mention a small or "nana" form in that book, we have retained that as part of the name but have changed the specific name as that book suggests. This evergreen shrub has small narrow leaves that are arranged in sets of four in an orderly fashion up the stems. The young leaves and stems are infused with purple giving the shrub its purple glow. We have found, and Lawrie Metcalf concurs, that it is important to prune this shrub regularly to keep it from getting leggy and to encourage the new purple growth. This has not bloomed for us.

  2 ft. x 3 ft., White flowers, Zones 7, 8, 9

OK, so Nana - not sure about that as it wants to get quite large. Last winter and spring I noticed my three specimens were getting leggy and opening up in the center, so as our website described, I pruned it back by a decent amount, not certain whether it would recover or not. It did indeed recover nicely, although it took several months.

One observation worth noting about this hebe is during last summer's heat dome, one of the three (not pictured) was directly in line with a sunbeam in late afternoon and fried. A lot. I had to remove about 80 percent of its branches, leaving a few scraggly ones. It is recovering, so I am hopeful. I think most people would have taken it out all together but call me the lazy gardener. Plus, it's thrilling to see a plant bounce back.

An absolute favorite, Hebe 'Karo Golden Esk' has a golden tone to the foliage that, oddly, looks very bright green in winter months.

There is a 'Karo Golden Esk' in the gardens at Joy Creek Nursery that is easily 5' tall and at least that wide that has been there for decades. These are about 3' x 3' and are perhaps 5 years old.

It's one of the whipcord hebes with its scale like leaves. There are more of this cultivar than any other in my garden, repeated several times in the gravel garden throughout. They are a unifying color and shape that stands out nicely in the winter months, a bright and cheerful color at a time when few other plants shine.

This was a mystery throw-away hebe from Joy Creek, but I am thinking it is Hebe 'Autumn Glory', although it hasn't bloomed for me yet. It was literally a stick with a few leaves on it when I planted it in the spring, now it is well on its way to be a proper shrub. This one could be marginally hardy. We'll see.

Hebe odora 'New Zealand Gold', but I must admit I have killed a few of these in my garden. In the gardens at Joy Creek Nursery there are two old specimens flanking a path in quite a bit of shade and they are there year after year. They do, however, tend to die out in chunks after particularly brutal winters but a hard pruning always revives them, at least at Joy Creek. Here in my garden two have finally taken and settled in nicely. They are named for their golden color on young stems.

Very young and new to the garden, Hebe rupicola has always been a favorite of mine in the gardens of Joy Creek Nursery. It is about 5' x 5', a perfect round dark green shrub, easy and pretty. I have two of these planted in a newly planted area here near the new chicken coop and will watch their progress with great expectation.

Hebe cupressoides, a fine hebe with a sort of frosted effect to the tips of its leaves. It really does look like a dwarf conifer. This specimen is about 3' tall and will likely grow another couple of feet.

Look at that fantastic texture.

Last but not least, Hebe parviflora ssp. angustifolia. Originally purchased for the yellow color of its new stems, it has become one of the most structural hebes in the garden. It is certainly the largest at nearly 6' tall, quite a surprise for me as I was expecting maybe a 36" high plant.

The lower-most branches, mostly scraggly little twigs, have been pruned away to allow for air and light to come through and it has responded very favorably to this pruning. Two winters ago a few branches were blackened by unusually cold icy weather and I thought it might be on its way out. However, I pruned out the dead branches hoping it would recover. It did, beautifully.

Parting shot of Hebe 'Red Edge' on the right with Hebe buxifolia on the left just at the base of the large grass, Miscanthus s. 'Cabaret'. 

This diverse genus adds so much texture, color and structure to my garden, I wouldn't do without them. They have a reputation as not being totally hardy, which is true for a lot of the country as most summers are too hot and winters are too cold generally speaking. If you think about the climate of New Zealand (which in itself is extremely diverse), the Pacific Northwest's climate is suitable to many species. In fact, Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences conducted a field study that ran from 2000 - 2009, evaluating hardiness and flower times. Here is a link for more information. While it's true there are hebes that will not suffer a 20-degree ice and snow event, there are plenty that will in this region. The benefits and beauty definitely outweigh the risks of adding them to the garden if your region is appropriate. 

I have done posts about hebes in the past, here is a link to one such post.

If you are unsure whether they are suitable to your garden, it's helpful to find out a little more about where in New Zealand they grow and to replicate as much as possible those growing conditions. Some love a bit of shade while others do well with more sun. Some summer water goes a long way for many species while I've noticed many here thrive with very little.

As with arctostaphylos, I am not a hebe expert by any stretch of the imagination. I simply admire them and have many in my garden, having grown and sold hundreds at Joy Creek Nursery over the years. Speaking of Joy Creek, you might note I have linked many of these plants to Joy Creek website pages. While the nursery is closed permanently and you can no longer order from them, the website will remain live for at least a year for information purposes.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy gardening.


  1. What a wonderful collection, Tamara! I haven't seen most of these varieties here and I'm always on the look-out for Hebes in local garden centers. I've killed 'Quicksilver' at least twice, even after trying it in different spots. However, I've had a Hebe 'Wiri Blush' for many years now. It even survived a gopher building a den underneath it. Although I thought it was a goner for awhile and it still hasn't recovered the symmetrical shape it one had, it survived despite my having to cut a significant portion of it down nearly to the ground. Hebe 'Purple Shamrock' has also done relatively well in an especially dry area - I wish I could find more of those!

    1. I guess SoCal is too hot for many species, Kris. Too gad but it sounds like you do have some options in 'Wiri Blush' and 'Purple Shamrock' which is one that regularly croaks here. I am amazed at how well they rebound after cutting back chunks from time to time.

  2. Great post. I thrive on evergreens to sustain me through winter. I love the conifer look of Hebe cupressoides, and the only thing that will stop me from getting one is it's eventual large size. I grow a number of Hebe, most I couldn't name to save my life, except for Quick Sliver and James Sterling. The latter is my favorite for the bronze hue it picks up in cold weather.

    1. Thank you Chavliness, me too - thriving on evergreens to get through winter.

      Hebe cuperssoides is so cool, have you checked out the cultivar 'Boughton Dome'? It's the same plant in a smaller size that might be right for you?

      There are SOOO many hebes out there it is difficult to keep track for sure!

  3. I brought 'Quicksilver' with me in 4-inch pots from SoCal -- it is often for sale there, but as Kris notes a mature, well-grown plant is hard to find! I planted it in October and so far it seems to be thriving. When I heard the news about Joy Creek's closure, I fired off an order, which included Hebe 'Western Hills' and 'New Zealand Gold' -- but 'Karo Golden Esk' is another hebe that really speaks to me! And H. cupressoides is a beaut too. Thanks so much for these overviews which are so very helpful.

    1. Hopefully your 'Quicksilver' will thrive, Denise.

      Glad you got your order off in time before Joy Creek closed, those are as you know both great hebes. I think I'll propagate 'Karo Golden Esk' to have available for folks - it's sooo pretty.

      Cheers and I'm thrilled you find these overviews helpful, that's wonderful feedback as most of the time I wonder who would ever read my posts? Thank you and cheers!

  4. Great visual run thru of the hebes! Your Hebe 'Karo Golden Esk' is gorgeous. Oh that I could get Hebe 'Quicksilver' to take hold in my garden. I've tried it in many spots and it looks good for awhile and then just slowly disintegrates.

    1. Why thank you Danger! 'Karo GE' is a favorite, for sure. I am frankly surprised 'Quicksilver' won't hold in your garden - that seems very weird to me as you are the gardener with the mostest. Hmmm....I have some I can dig up and give you to try again? All of mine are in pretty well drained soil in partial high shade. Wanna try?

  5. This is wonderful, Tamara. I love the way you think! Organized, focused, art and science as one. Just the idea of the four evergreen groups—how cool is that!? Never thought of it that way before. Helpful way to organize brain around the complexities of a large garden. Helps synthesize the “paintbox full of paint brushes” that are plants.

    1. Thank you Alyse, that is a huge compliment to me, you are too kind!

      Call it the Capricorn organized mind.

      And yes, the paintbox metaphor is perfect! I love it! Cheers and thank you again.

  6. I really appreciate your photos of the whole plant in the landscape! So many sites offer only a close-up of flowers. Makes it very difficult to picture what the form of the plant is. thank you for sharing, it's incredibly helpful.

    1. Hi Ana, I'm glad you are finding the post useful! I agree, it's frustrating when you want to know what the whole plant looks like. Cheers!


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