Echium pininana: I’ll grow where I please, thanks
Although it’s the plants themselves, rather than the gardeners, that get to choose where they will appear and thrive, the tree echiums (Echium pininana) are the perhaps the true signature plant of the dry garden at RHS Hyde Hall, punctuating every vista from July to October with their 2-3 metre flower spikes.
So prolific are they in the free draining conditions here, bathed in day-long sunshine and with the tiny seeds readily spread with the help of battering Hilltop winds, it’s much less a matter of where they be planted than a matter of where they are left to do their thing.
Those strong winds mean that these plants grow tough, with particularly woody, fleshy stems, supported by strong taproot-like roots. The flower spikes are nevertheless occasionally snapped, especially as the weather turns in early autumn, which ruins the dramatic silhouette and brings down the overall display.
Once they’re spotted they’re out, with the aid of a border fork and some determined rocking to-and-fro to pull the plant out wholesale, or a pruning saw applied to the base of the stem. Many of the stems are more than two inches in diameter – an incredible achievement for a plant usually described as a biennial – and therefore well beyond the scope of secateurs or loppers.
Although they can be propagated by seed in nursery conditions, and raised from there for establishment, their general dislike of being transplanted means this is best done only when establishing tree echiums in a garden – thereafter, in the right conditions, they will behave like a weed and will do all the hard work for you, as long as you can recognise the emerging seedlings when weeding.
[written 2021, while in training at RHS Hyde Hall]