As gardeners we love it when plants behave, flower well, and appear to have read the book on good behaviour. Maybe that salvia hard-pruned in late spring has flowered non-stop all summer and even now in that sheltered corner still a few flowers remain. Maybe that new potato variety we tried, avoided blight and gave us a huge crop that we’re still enjoying at the table now. For some reason, whatever our successes we like a challenge.
For us at Genus HQ it’s trying to grow the giant viper’s-bugloss Echium pininana. Endemic to the Canary Islands most of us will be familiar with this plant during visits to Cornwall or The Isles of Scilly where they grow like weeds in front gardens and neglected corners; with their huge flowering stems reaching 12 feet or more they’re unmistakable. The problem for most of us inland and north of Padstow is that after a successful growing season the large rosettes (pictured) never make it through the winter. Sometimes they’ll make it through to late March and just as we reach for a celebratory Prosecco a late frost seems to finish them off.
With a spell of very mild December weather approaching we rather hope this may be our year. Lessons from previous years haven't been forgotten though. If once again our attempts are thwarted by a cold snap in late spring we can always resort to its cousin Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’. It can’t compete in stature being only 2 feet tall but it is incredibly floriferous, is a magnet for pollinators and being an annual doesn’t have to endure a harsh winter. We’re still holding out hope for our beloved giants but if all else fails there’s a packet of ‘Blue Bedder’ secretly stashed in the kitchen drawer.