Eyes front! Treat your neighbours to a crowd-stopping front garden

Emma Townshend has the perfect plan to catch the eye of passers-by – and nothing will stop them in their tracks quite like an array of plants from foreign climes

Earlier this year there was an apologetic, quiet knock on my front door. "I'm sorry to disturb you," said the slightly frazzled-looking lady on the doorstep, "you don't actually know me or anything, it's just that I always admire the plants in your front garden, and I was wondering, I've been meaning to stop and ask for quite a few years, what on earth is that blue thing?"

That blue thing is Echium pininana, a garden plant as reimagined by Norman Foster to provide a 2m-tall skyscraper for bees. On hot afternoons, you can actually "hear" the plant it's often so full of them.

It wasn't the first time someone has summoned up the courage to ask for plant information on what's growing out the front round at mine. "I recognise that from when I was growing up, but what is it?" asked a smartly dressed man, stopping on his walk home from work early one evening. It turned out he had grown up in St Lucia; the plants in question were cannas, with huge, banana-like leaves.

For me, the big, tall, eye-catching plants that really make a front garden mostly come from far away, but not necessarily exotic, climes. At the moment, a cordyline is perfuming most of our end of the street with clouds of tiny, creamy, star-shaped flowers – though at home, it's just a humble New Zealand Cabbage Palm.

The stately blue towers of Echium pininana are themselves native to the dry, rocky shores of the Canary Islands – not most people's definition of an "exotic" destination. Echiums came to English gardening first in the Scillies, where they slowly colonised the lanes and front gardens near the famous Abbey Gardens on Tresco. Then visiting Cornish gardeners fancied growing it, and this spectacular tourist happily jumped to the mainland. Finally, of course, emmet Londoners such as, ahem, me, fell in love with it and took home seedlings (or, in my case, packets of seed). It turns out that this echium grows very well like this, reseeding itself every year in the early months if you let the seed scatter from the dying flowerhead.

It's a biennial, which means it is sown one year, grows to about a 4ft plant during that growing season, then must survive till the next spring if it is to produce a traffic-stopping bloom. When echiums were first grown in the UK, an awful lot of bubble wrap was involved, the plants being carefully covered come October.

However, with every passing winter, we enthusiasts realise the cosseting is less necessary than we'd imagined. This year, my yearling echiums survived all the snow and ice episodes the winter could muster with the occasional help of a few black bin bags. Once they find a happy, sunny spot, they are away. In fact, the only thing you really have to worry about is the fairly allergenic hairs that cover every leaf: this is definitely a plant to handle with care. Then just be sure to mind the bees.

Three crowd-stoppers

Cabbage Palm

An unprepossessing yucca-alike to start with, this comes into its own at about the 10-year marker, when it will flower its little Cath Kidston floral socks off planted in the right position.

Save time by buying a specimen plant, £35, burncoose.co.uk

'Echium pininana'

These need to be established as small plants in a hot spot. Buy three to ensure at least one makes it through the winter.

3-litre plant, £8.50, burncoose.co.uk, or 10 seeds for £2.68, jungleseeds.co.uk

Canna 'Wyoming'

A truly red parrot of a flower with dark burgundy leaves, to make everyone feel as though they're in the Caribbean. Or at least on a roundabout in the South of France. £7 each, burncoose.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?