I was walking through the Washington Park Arboretum recently and was attracted to this shrub. I recognized it and my first thought was…it’s a Hebe…and it looks good in the winter! Having seen the Hebe casualties over the last few frosty winters, I was happy to note that this one was holding up well (so far). It has such a satisfying symmetrical shape with colors in cool blues and greens, you can’t help take notice. It’s native to New Zealand, which has over 100 Hebe species. Upon inspection I saw the plant tag and wondered at the name, Veronica topiaria. Was it Veronica or Hebe? I found this interesting tidbit from the blog Catalogue of Organisms.
“During the 1800s and early 1900s, most of those New Zealand (and a few South American) species that would later become recognised as hebes were included in the genus Veronica, a genus originally established for an assortment of temperate Northern Hemisphere taxa. The genus name Hebe (after the Greek goddess of youth, the daughter of Zeus and Hera, wife of Heracles after his apotheosis, and the server of ambrosia at the gods’ table) was originally established in 1789, but didn’t really enter use until the 1920s (Albach et al., 2004). Even after the botanical community recognised the distinctiveness of Hebe, horticulturists still tended for some time to regard the hebes as Veronica (Metcalf, 2006). Over time, everyone seems to have adjusted to the new view, and some groups of ‘Hebe’ species were even committed to further segregate genera – Parahebe,Chionohebe and (ha ha) Hebejeebie.”
Hebe topiaria is an evergreen shrub that reaches 3-4 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide in zones 7-9. It needs well-drained soil and full sun to grow the best. Flowers are white, but they occur infrequently on this Hebe. Hebes with large leaves and showy flowers are the most tender to cold, while those with small leaves and white flowers are the most hardy. I found another great site from Oregon State University that discusses hebe hardiness.
“In North America, Hebes are grown primarily as a landscape plant. Because of the intolerance of most Hebes for excessively hot or cold weather, cultivation of Hebes in North America is almost entirely limited to west of the Cascade or Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and the Pacific Northwest. Elsewhere in North America, the climate is generally too cold or hot, or both, to allow for outdoor cultivation, although dedicated enthusiasts have been successful with some varieties in many other areas.
Even in the Pacific Northwest, Hebes are sometimes thought of as too tender for general landscape use, a reputation which is primarily the result of experience with a few popular cultivars which are not particularly cold hardy. Plantings of ‘Amy’, ‘Tricolor’ or ‘Patty’s Purple’ have been severely damaged in cold events on a regular basis, which has unfortunately given the entire genus this reputation. The key to growing these tender cultivars is to provide a protected location near a house or nearby plant.”
Useful information for all Hebe lovers, New Zealanders or anyone who likes to garden on the edge of the zone.