Heath (Erica spp.) is the lookalike cousin (frequently confused) to spring and summer-blooming heather (Calluna vulgaris). It is common for nurseries to even label heath as "heather," preferring to list a name more familiar to their customers. Inspect the two plants closely and you will find significant differences.
What is normally sold in winter or early spring, in bloom, is heath. Common varieties-- overly planted in my opinion-- are 'Mediterranean Pink' and 'Mediterranean White.' Don't ask me why this symbol of Scotland is given the moniker conjuring points south. My own plants of 'Pink' are blooming at this writing. Take a look at the branches and greenery, and you will find that Erica sports a needle-like leaf on thin woody stems, and tends to grow rather closely to the ground. It usually doesn't exceed 12 inches in height and can spread several feet in every direction.
Calluna, by contrast, is unlikely to be blooming in winter or early spring. These beauties tend to grow more upright, though they also spread. Height can reach 24' without shearing. The blooms are denser and often more brilliant, sporting many shades of pink, white and red. Foliage is often a soft silvery-grey resembling lavender foliage, and offers a contrast with other evergreen groundcovers year-round. The foliage is more scale-like than Erica, resembling tiny rounded leaves rather than needles.
Both Erica and Calluna are members of the same family, Ericaceae. This huge family includes other acid-loving evergreens with urn-shaped flowers, including Pieris, kinnickkinnick, blueberries and huckleberries, rhododendrons and even our native Pacific Madrone trees. So it should be no surprise that heaths and heathers love it on our central coast. The native soils are acidic, well-drained (sandy) with plenty of rotted organic matter and retain enough moisture to get the plants through dry summers. They also appreciate our mild temps, with best blooming on sites with good exposure to light.
The many attributes of these fine plants include low- to no-maintenance in the right spot, with only optional shearing for size or neatness. They require almost no supplemental water on the coast, and although they will appreciate occasional acid-plant fertilizer, they don't require it. Bloom time can be staggered over the many varieties, especially when you include the colorful winter/spring foliage on cultivars like 'Spring Torch' or 'Robert Chapman.' The plants are all evergreen, and fit neatly within a well-planned landscape to suppress weeds and cover hillsides. They can perform well under deciduous trees if the shade canopy is not overly dense, which will cause them to become thin and leggy with sparse blooms.
Great sources for heath and heather include our local nurseries Blake's in Gleneden Beach and Bear Valley in Lincoln City. For a wider array of choices by mail order, check out Heaths and Heathers in SW Washington state, and Highland Heather in Canby OR. I have used products from both and found them to be exceptional in quality and knowledge.