Native to the Canary Islands, echiums are sky-rocketing giants of the plant world. But, like an unfortunate child star, they reach their peak early before burning themselves out. Many of the them are monocarpic, flowering only once before dying. But what flowers! The good news is that echiums set seed freely so that the following year you are blessed with hundreds of newly germinated plants.
In our coastal garden we grow Echium pininana, commonly known as tower of jewels, as well as well as Echium tuberculatum from Portugal. Having developed quite an affection for echiums, I have been nurturing a single plant of Echium wildpretii for the last three years and finally it is flowering. Echium wildpretii has a great deal more finesse than both of the old timers, forming an elegant rosette of felted, silver-grey leaves before sending up a stocky spike of raspberry red flowers in its third year. Where it’s planted it combines nicely with the reddish bark of Lyonothamnus floribundus aspleniifolius and the emerging flower stalk of Beschorneria yuccoides.
With the prospect of a small conservatory close to becoming reality, I am thinking of starting a collection of echiums which might include some of the shruby species such as E. candicans, E. bethencourtianum and E. hypertropicum. For now I am growing from seed more E. wildpretii and a hybrid between this and E. pininana called E. ‘Pink Fountain’. Surprise, surprise, it has pink flowers.
If you are searching for a plant that has the wow factor and can offer conditions which are not too cold or damp then Echium wilpretii is just the thing. It’s not too tall (4-5ft), wind tolerant and bees love it. It will keep flowering until November before fading away. As Billy Joel sang – only the good die young.