Add Echiums for a tropical touch

Phyl Boyce


Phyl Boyce

Add Echiums for a tropical touch

A close up of the hankerchief tree, which is in flower in Phyl's garden now

ECHIUM pininana (Tree Echium) is a stunning plant for any sheltered border providing a tropical touch to any garden in late spring and early summer.

The plant is a native of the Canary Islands where its flower heads can be seen growing above the laurel forests. It is a biennial plant that grows about 4 feet tall with silvery green hairy leaves in the first year.

In the second year the plant suddenly spurts into growth to produce a single flower spike up to 16 feet tall that is covered with blue funnel shaped flowers. After flowering the plant dies and scatters its seeds. In mild parts of the country, like the south coast of Ireland, these seeds will germinate to produce new plants. In colder regions the seeds should be collected and sown in the greenhouse in spring.

Echiums make impressive and very beautiful focal points for the large herbaceous border.

Echiums can be grown in an open position in sun , in moderately fertile, well drained soil. If the soil is too rich the plant tends to grow too much foliage and produce very little flowers.

Since they are tall plants they need they need shelter from strong winds. The plant is frost tender so in frost prone areas protect with horticultural fleece when frosts are expected. There are over 40 different species of echiums that produce blue, purple, white and red flowers. Some species are so tender they will only survive in a greenhouse.

Echium russicum comes from Eastern Europe, grows 2-3 feet tall with dark red flower and can become a short-lived perennial if the conditions are right. Echium ‘Pink Fountain’ grows about 10 feet tall, produces a tapering spire of delicate pink flowers. Echiun ‘Snow Tower’ produces snow white flowers.

Davidia involucrate (handkerchief or dove tree) is a very showy tree at this time of the year producing large white, fluttering bracts. The leaves are glossy pale green, resembling that of a lime tree. Brown golf-ball sized fruit hang on this tree in the autumn.

When the flowers appear in late May or early June this deciduous tree appears to be covered with white doves or handkerchiefs fluttering in the breeze. Although beautiful this tree, Davidia, is not frequently planted because it takes years to flower. It can take 10-30 years to flower.

To grow this tree you need patience, lots of patience. The tree can be planted in the autumn or spring. The tree takes less time to flower on well-drained soil and much longer on heavier, fertile soil. The tree will reach a height of about 12 feet before it flowers, just a few flowers at the start with more and more flowers each following year.

The tree will eventually grow to about 30 feet tall so it needs lots of space. The tree is a native of China and was discovered growing in the wild in 1869 by a French missionary called Armand David and is called after him. The great plant explorer Wilson collected seeds of this plant and brought back to England a 100 years ago.

The seeds can take up to two years to germinate. Patience is a necessary virtue for gardeners with a passion for this gorgeous tree.

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Plant out seedlings of sweetcorn into well-prepared soil that has lots of compost dug into it. Plant in a block rather than in long rows because sweetcorn is wind pollinated. The sweetcorn can be grown from seed that was sown in modular seed trays in spring. The sweetcorn will be ready to harvest in August.