WHEN people think echium they usually visualise the towering spires of florets that start to decorate Ventnor Botanic Garden and its environs so beautifully at this time of the year.

But, there is an echium out there to suit all spaces from the tall to the very small, including a native resident close relative which bears one of the best wildflower blues – Viper’s Bugloss aka Echium vulgare.

Echiums, whether they be large or small, need free-draining soil to enable them to survive wet winters.

They thrive in full sun but will tolerate shadier situations – although they will light-seek which can result in leaning towers.

Echiums can be grown from seed and each of the larger plants bear tens of thousands which can be harvested in autumn and winter – some may even have some hanging on in spring.

Sow seed in late spring or early summer, lightly covering the seeds with vermiculite and do not over water.

Transplant seedlings into four-inch pots after they have germinated and are big enough to handle.

Alternatively, biennial echiums will self-seed profusely. If you have been given seed it is easy to mimic self-seeding by stripping the branches into soil after giving it a light fork over – but wear gardening gloves because echiums are bristly blighters.

Cuttings from the shrubbier species can be taken in late May and June, after flowering.

Given the right conditions, echiums are pretty bulletproof, but, if grown outside in a border, the more tender varieties need protection with fleece during the coldest winter weather.


Echium pininana is the most recognisable variety with its dramatically tall spires. Biennial, it will self-seed readily in the right spot, such as the banks of the botanic garden.

Echium aculeatum, the lesser white bugloss, is native to the Canary Islands and rarely grown in the UK. A shrubby variety, it is low-growing and bushy with silvery foliage.

Echium vulgare is a biennial wildflower, good for attracting pollinators, especially bees. It is ideally suited to a wildlife garden or at the front of a sunny border.

Echium webbii bears tall spikes of brilliant, violet-blue flowers. Ideal for a sunny, sheltered spot or sunny patio. Like pininana it is biennial, flowering in its second year, so young plants need protection through harsh winters.

Echium amoenum ‘Red Feathers’ is a personal favourite. While described as perennial, you will be lucky if you get many spring flowerings out of this one.

However, the plumes of pinkish-red flowers look wonderful in sunny borders or as a bold statement in a container.

A handy hint is to deadhead to encourage repeat flowering. It also needs protection during cold winter weather.

I have been gifted a few pininana plants and some seed by Mark, the gardener of granny’s friend, Het.

It is much appreciated and should provide temporary screening from a neighbour’s play equipment until my newly-planted holm oak hedge which will quickly take over and block it out.

* Good ol’ Eddie Grove has done it again...

The veteran Wootton gardener, who each year saves some of Stan Jackson’s cherished Queen of Hearts tomato seed, has given me yet another large tray of plants.

From noon today (Friday) a limited number of plants will be on my honesty chair near the top of Oakhill Road, Seaview, where each 50p will support the Send a Cow charity which helps those in developing countries farm their way out of food poverty.

After they have been sold there will be a three week — or so — gap before my own six varieties are ready.