By eck! The magic of Echiums

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By eck! The magic of Echiums

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I remember only too vividly my first trip to the tip of Cornwall and seeing a plant apparently growing wild that had a 12-foot high spike of blue flowers covered in bees.

That it had the name Echium pininana was a bonus, for here was a Latin name that I could remember. The first word was a bit like 'Ecky thump' and the second sounded like a cross between a pineapple and a banana.

I was then still a teenager when I grew my first Echium in the garden for wildlife, but it was the native one, Echium vulgare, better known as Viper's Bugloss - another great name don't you think? (Better than 'George', anyway).

Reason number one to grow it: it looks stunning, massed spikes of sea blue. Reason number two: what a supremo it is for bumblebees - it's fantastic.

So I'm always thrilled to find it growing wild, as here in Norfolk back in June.

Even better when darting in to feed on these spikes was this:

Yes, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth - reason number 3 to grow it.

Thinking that other Echiums might be just as good, I've been growing Echium wildprettii, and this year for the first time I got it to flower.

I was so proud - what a flower! But oh, how I wish it had turned out to be brilliant for insects. Sadly not one visited, and I'll probably stick to the other Echiums now, but I enjoyed the experiment!

  • I grew Echium russicum this year, or should I say last year, I'm not a fan of biennials, there is a lot of growing time compared to flowering time but as Echiums seem so good for bees I thought I'd give it a go. I was very disappointed, I didn't notice one bee visiting the flowers. Echium Blue Bedder has to be my favourite (and the bees), it is an annual which is easy to grow, flowers all summer, is adored by the bees and readily self seeds for the following year.

    I grow a few Echium pininana each year in the hope of beating the frosts and having a 15 foot bee magnet. I got one to flower this year (thanks to a mild winter) but it only reached around 7 foot. The other three decided not to flower.

  • That's great to know, Peter, thanks. Lusitanicum isn't quite as showy, is it? But what a family of plants for larger bees, wow!

  • Another Echium that is excellent for bees, and hardy in the heavy clay I have in my part of Northeast England is E. lusitanicum ssp.polycaulon. The pale blue flowers are not as stunning as E. pininiana or E. wildprettii but they just buzzed with bees a couple of weeks ago.

    I think we may have just a place for one or two in the Wildlife Garden at RSPB Saltholme so I'll collect some seed.