Christopher Lloyd used to claim that he never allowed the Echium pininanas at Great Dixter to flower, as he valued them most as foliage plants. This has always puzzled me, as nothing equates better with Christo’s flamboyant character than the literally over the top 14 feet flower spikes of the Echium pininana. But after four harsh winters during after which none of my Echiums were alive I think I understood that Christo had no choice – they would never flower in his part of inland Sussex as the weather wouldn’t allow them to.
Looking at my echiums today, pictured here, I can see why they are valued as foliage plants. They provide an architectural backdrop in the autumn and winter which few other plants can rival. There are about a hundred similar in my garden at the moment. All of them are plants which self-seeded in the ground and have been trans-planted to their present position. As the last time when Echiums flowered in this garden was the summer of 2006, and the seedlings emerged last summer, it follows that the seeds had lain dormant in the ground for four years before emerging. They got through last winter unscathed and if they get through this, there will be a display of magnificent spires next year of which I think even Christopher Lloyd would have been proud.