Urban gardener: An echium in the UK

I don't make a habit of singing punk rock anthems in my garden, but a line from the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" came to me the other day while trying to find a spot for a tree, echium (Echium pininana). What's so anarchic about that? I hear you say. Well, in the face of climate change, nothing really, it's just that it's been sitting in a pot in our backyard since June and really needs to go in the ground if it's to do its spectacular thing next year. It was the frustration of not knowing where to put this frost-tender biennial that brought on the rendition (I had to change the words slightly to fit the occasion), "I know what I want / But don't know where to plant it!" which then became my working mantra for the rest of the day.

Echium are becoming increasingly popular in the UK thanks to our mild winters. I was going to use mine purely for its foliage in the Bupa Garden at Chelsea earlier this year but it wasn't large enough to make an impression. Now, graced with an elegant rosette of lanceolate leaves, I want it. I've always wanted to grow echium in my own garden. The spires, festooned with blue flowers that rocket to between three and four metres, are about as dramatic as anything you'll see in a garden, especially on a clear day when bees swarm to the inflorescent matrix of tiny, funnel-shaped flowers proving that non-natives do have a role to play in the bio-diversity of our backyards.

The sheer number of slugs in our garden may have defeated it earlier in the year but now armed with bristles on its lower leaves it should be safe. But our garden doesn't really get the best of the sun until late morning so after a day of dithering and whingeing I finally accepted that it should go to Meadbank Care Home in Battersea, south London, where the Bupa Garden is currently being re-located. It's the kinder option. One end of its courtyard basks in sunshine for much of the day, just what this Canary Island native needs, and the surrounding walls will also help keep frost at bay. Sustained temperatures below -3 to -4C will eventually kill the tree echium, so it's still worth choosing a good position to give it the best opportunity to reach its full potential. The plant will also perish from saturated roots, so good drainage is imperative if it's to cope with our wet weather. A south- or west-facing wall should give it all the protection it needs, but a covering of bracken might be necessary in more exposed locations. Even if it does survive winter, echium can get a grump on if conditions aren't quite right come early summer and might need another season to get over it.

The plant's foliage is handsome enough on its own in the first year but the rocket, once it gets going, is out of this world and can even reach four metres where conditions are right. Like all rockets though, the energy expended in creating such a dazzling spectacle leaves nothing in reserve and the plant eventually dies. Before its demise, be sure to give it a good spanking to release its seeds. If your soil has been reasonably enriched with home-made compost, echium seeds will germinate where they fall (don't cover them with soil as they need light to germinate) within a few weeks, but will then take another 18 months at least to produce the flower spike. If you've grown it from seed collected this summer they'll need transplanting into pots and over-wintering in a cool greenhouse to keep them from the frost. Bought seed can be sown under glass in early spring. At a push you could grow it in a large pot but this, despite their drought tolerance in the wild, will mean diligent watering to achieve anything like the stature you'd expect in open ground and more frost protection to boot. Being vertical they take up much less room than you'd imagine in a small garden (allow a metre between plants if you're planning a colony) but make sure they get enough light, otherwise they'll elbow their way through anything to get what they want. There, you see – anarchy in their veins after all.

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent