Daily Flower Candy: Echium candicans

Travel agents report that the second week in January is the peak week for holiday bookings. This is hardly surprising given the short days, miserable weather and deflating prospect of returning to work after the Christmas holidays. Tomorrow, January 19th, has been named ‘Blue Monday’ – officially the most depressing day of the year. To beat the blues I’ve been looking at back at last year’s travels and enjoying the photographs I took along the way. I don’t subscribe to ‘dry’ Januaries, or New Year diets, so see no reason not to present you with Echium candicans as my first Daily Flower Candy of 2015. These pictures were taken at Tresco Abbey Gardens last April, shortly before Easter.

Echium candicans has been given an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM)
Echium candicans was given an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2002

Commonly known as Pride of Madeira (now there’s a good suggestion for a holiday destination) Echium candicans is big brother to our native E. vulgare (viper’s bugloss). Both siblings share the same vivid blue flowers and attractiveness to bees, but differ greatly in stature. Echium candicans is a fast growing but short-lived subshrub which reaches 4-6ft high and the same in width, occasionally more. It quickly forms an umbrella-shaped canopy of hairy branches, each tipped with a rosette of felted, grey-green leaves. Spikes of flowers, which may vary in colour from rose pink or lavender to deep indigo blue, are blessed with prominent pinkish-red stamens. Pride of Madeira can be pruned after flowering to help maintain bushiness, but after 5-6 years it’s best to let a vital new seedling take over from its woody parent.

At Tresco Abbey Gardens Echium candicans covers the ground beneath stately palms
At Tresco Abbey Gardens Echium candicans forms the understorey beneath stately palms

To understand Pride of Madeira’s preferred garden conditions you simply needs to understand its natural habitat – the rocky cliffs and plateaus of Madeira’s central mountain range. Here the plants get plenty of exposure to sun but have to endure occasional freezing temperatures in winter. The ground is well drained and droughts are frequent. In the UK Echium candicans is especially happy in mild coastal gardens, tolerating windy sites and nutrient poor, sandy soils. On the island of Tresco it has naturalised itself in garden walls and where sand dunes meet cultivated land.

Echiums flowers are a magnet for bees
Echium flowers are a magnet for honey bees

If you fancy giving Pride of Madeira a whirl in your own garden, seeds and plants are quite easy to track down in the UK, but named varieties such as ‘San Bruno Pink’ and ‘Rincon Blue’ must be propagated from cuttings and are only available in the USA (as far as a I am aware). There is even a variegated form with blue flowers called ‘Star of Madeira’ – oh how I would love to get my green fingers on one of those!

Credit for this image of E. candicans 'Star of Madeira' goes to Danger Garden blog
Credit for this image of E. candicans ‘Star of Madeira’ goes to Danger Garden blog

Echium candicans may be blue, but it’s about as far from depressing as a plant can get. Just 3 more months and the flowers will be starting to emerge again, a beacon for bees from miles around.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s first sweet treat – there will be more candy to come as 2015 unfolds….