Growing eryngiums

by James Alexander-Sinclair

I love eryngiums: they are about the only plants that manage to be architectural, delicate, pretty and slightly dangerous.

Eryngium flowerLadies and gentlemen, let us pause from our busy lives for a few minutes in order to consider the eryngium. Those of you an eye for a bargain will already be subscribers to Gardeners' World Magazine, and a few of you will have noticed my writing about eryngiums in the ‘We love’ pages of the July 2011 edition. I would like, if I may, to expand on that a bit and introduce you to a few more.

I love eryngiums: they are about the only plants that manage to be architectural, delicate, pretty and slightly dangerous. Quite an impressive combination I am sure you will agree. These are my top four:

Eryngium tripartitum - little dancing thimbles of blue with spiny ruffs of metallic silver. One of the most attractive features of this family is that the colour of the flower leaches down the stems so the whole thing is suffused with blue

Eryngium bourgattii - the best blue of them all. A sort of steely azure as cold (yet devastatingly alluring) as the eyes of a mermaid. The best is probably one called Picos Blue - I know, I have mentioned that one as well but this is a picture of the one in my garden.

Eryngium padanifolium 'Physic Purple' - a South American variety that has very striking muddy red flowers. The leaves are fleshy and viciously spiked, snails tend to cunningly hide amongst them. Beware: the spines face inwards so to reach in for the snail is fine but if you pull your hand out again too fast you will undoubtedly end up bleeding. Here it is with a helenium called 'Moorheim Beauty'.

Eryngium giganteum - this one I wrote about in the magazine but just wanted to show you what a fine and handsome corpse this plant makes. Still maintaining its shape long into the winter. It also looks great with grasses.

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Gardeners' World Web User 18/07/2011 at 11:32

Oh, such lovely pictures,James. I too love eryngiums and have just bought a potful of seedlings of Eryngium varifolium from the Botanic Garden in Bristol, which has given me five plants. No flowers this year as they are so small but the leaves have lovely markings. I saw eryngiums in lots of the rooms at Hidcote Manor recently and they looked particularly fetching in the rockery of Cotswold sandstone.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/07/2011 at 15:42

Excuse my ignorance but are "teasles" in the eryngium family and if so, which of them is best for providing seeds for birds, please? i have teasle seeds, when and how to sew?

Gardeners' World Web User 18/07/2011 at 16:07

Tinkerbell, you want to sow seeds of Dipsacus fullorum in April or May or buy a plant as they are biennial so the plants from last year can be bought. One plant will give you teasels forever in your garden, like forget-me-nots and foxgloves! The bees love the flowers and the goldfinches love the seeds so you do not deadhead, hence teasels forever. But they are statuesque plants in themselves like eryngiums are.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/07/2011 at 17:15

Hi James - all! IMHO, the very best eryngium is 'Jade Frost' and best yet - it seem they come true from seed - I have some butter colored seedlings from some 'Jade Frost' seed I collected last fall - very ghostly looking babies. And the flower spikes are not blue like many, but a metallic purple that is just Fab!

Gardeners' World Web User 18/07/2011 at 19:28

I love the pic of the field of Eryngiums! Stunning. I've just bought an E. Blue Hobbit and it's small and cute and gorgeously coloured.

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