the trouble with echiums

This is the photo of my garden in the current guide to Australia's open gardens. It was taken last October.

The foreground features twin towers of flowering Echium candicans 'Heronswood Blue.' In front of the echium are masses of parsley in various stages of seeding. On the left you see a hint of pink wallflower blooms - Erysimum cheiri 'Winter Joy'.

None of these 3 plants are growing there now.

The OGA (Open Gardens Australia) coordinator requested a photo taken around the same time as the garden would be open. I dutifully complied. It was a sensible idea, presumably because visitors would have an idea what to expect. Except, in my case, that part of the garden no longer looks like that.

Instead it looks like this.

It's an example of the continually evolving nature of this kind of gardening.  Here's how it happened.

Firstly the parsley grew, seeded itself and died, just as it was supposed to, leaving a gap. The gap could have been filled by new parsley plants but I left them to their own devices and they appear to have moved to another part of the garden.

Secondly - an explanation of the fate of the wallflower. That particular specimen had been thriving in that position for about a decade.  During that time it flowered profusely for most of the year. By last summer its beauty was ravaged by age. It was no longer an attractive shape, and was sparse and leggy.  I cut it back and it started to re-grow - but too slow, too slow ...   It simply was no longer the thing of beauty that it used to be. So ... I said 'so long' and 'thank you', took some cuttings and deposited it in the compost heap to continue its presence in the garden in another form.

Third, the majestic echium shrubs finished flowering by the summer. The shrub was leggy and to my mind looked over-large and unsuited to that position. So I cut it back until it looked OK. It only looked OK when it was nearly invisible.  Some perennial echium are better treated as annuals, although the echiums in the back of my garden manage to look good all the year round.

Then I had an idea. E. wildpretti is biennial and much less dense and bulky than E. candicans. I think it is a similar size to the artichoke that are growing in that area and I thought they might look fabulous together.  So ... after a trip to Heronswood to buy the biennials followed by a bit of garden rearranging, I have finished that bed for the moment and am waiting to see if my idea will work out.

And that is how and why the garden changes.


  1. I think I lost my commemt. I've seen an echium that must have been 20' - wonderful plants. Good luck.

  2. Hi Cat mint, I know what you mean sometimes plants pass their use by dates and if you leave them they just look horrible and leggy!
    Glad to hear your garden is going to be open, I might see if i can come along and have a look!

  3. If only I could grow echiums, wrong soil and too much frost, just a few miles away, by the sea, they grow beautifully.Don't worry about your garden being different from your photograph, gardens change as they mature, visitors understand that.

  4. Garden is always evolving, it like it has its own mind sometime. I was hoping to find many self-sowed viola these year, but saw none. Hope your new plants will grow very well with your established plants.

  5. You are right...the garden is always changing. I think that is one of the reasons that gardening has kept my interest for so long.

  6. Hi cat mint, The echiums are not very likely to grow in our Aberdeen garden. I understand your need for change it truly is like the seasons ever changing. When I think of the plants in my A to Z Index, so many of them are no longer in the garden, still its my record of them. I would love to nip over to see your garden, a little too far away though.

  7. dear Hermes, thx for the comment.

    dear Serena, so pleased you also relate to the dilemma. I would love you to come to the open weekend, please be sure to identify yourself so I know it is you.

    Dear Pauline, I am having difficulties getting to your blog for some reason but I will keep trying. Thanks for your wise words, I expect some visitors will hate the garden, some will love it.

    Dear MKZ, isn't that the truth? Plants are like children, sometimes they conform and often they don't. And it's not worth a power struggle, I think.

    Dear SB, yes if you think about it it is astonishing how much satisfaction and stimulation we get longterm from our gardens.

    Dear Alastair, thx for the comment - I wish you could pop over too - but it's definitely a long way. I have a desire to visit the Scottish islands before I die, so IF I do I'll pop in to Aberdeen on the way up north.

    cheers, catmint

  8. The trouble with echiums in my garden is - they all die. So you're ahead there, anyway. And any gardeners who visit will fully understand what's going on and may come back in future years to see the progress of the area.

  9. Hi, I visited your garden on the open day. I really enjoyed seeing the front secret garden. Are the small pink/ yellow ground covers nemesia?

  10. Hi Anonymous, thanks for the comment. I'm so pleased you liked the garden. I think you mean wallflower - some are in orange and others are pink and yellow. Most nurseries would have a range of colours. Keep in touch, catmint / Sue

  11. Hi Catmint
    When I look back over pictures of my gardens, they change every year but then they don't. I think I mean the plants may change, but the style doesn't. I like cottage type gardens. I actually like that the plants change, cause I get bored with the same old thing and like to create new looks.
    Cheers Sandi

  12. lets try that again. you probably worked this out already but our parsley in Brunswick would seed, die off, and then come back after the first decent rain. Give it a heavy watering and watch the fallen seeds come back with a vengeance.

    1. hi Michael, so that's why sometimes the parsley comes back and sometimes it doesn't. I don't usually water, but just depend on rainfall and watering the compost with used water from the kitchen. I love Brunswick, that whole area around Merri Creek and Ceres.

  13. what a lovely and informative read, thank you all

  14. Yep, the garden always changes, even our favorite vignettes. I do love Echiums, though I don't have any. At the Chicago Botanic Garden they are usually grown in big containers and taken inside during the winters.

    1. I don't have to work at growing them like CBG - if I didn't pull unwanted seedlings out they would take over the garden.


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