Echiums are one of the wonders of the plant world. But, as I frequently say to customers who show interest in them, 'buying one is like a £7.50 bet on the Grand National'. You'll be more than lucky to get it to flower - until this year that is. After an exceptionally mild winter, the Echiums have the best chance in years of achieving some of the spectacular flower displays they produce in their native habitats in N. Africa and the Canary Islands.
In its first year, Echium pininana forms a large low rosette (about 1m across) of silvery-green spear-like leaves. The following year, given the right conditions in a sheltered, south-facing border, this 'base' becomes the rocket launcher for a spectacular tower of blue, funnel-shaped flowers that can reach up 4m - yes a 13ft tower of flowers! Once it has flowered the plant dies and seeds are scattered. These may germinate where they land in milder areas. More likely they will need to be sown under glass in spring, to grow and flower the following year.
If you have an Echium pininana, look out for tell-tale, smaller side leaves near the top of the rosette. These are as sure a sign as any that it is about to 'GO'!