Gardening Journal: Plant of the month – Echinops


August is a slower time in the gardening calendar, with the heat bringing a stop to growth for most plants and the drier soils halting the normally constant germination of weeds in our borders.  It is a time of colour though, with herbaceous perennials still throwing up flowers for us to enjoy. Make the most of the quieter times, kick back, relax and contemplate those spring bulb planting combinations – it will be bulb planting season before you know it…

One of the plants in my early gardening years that really got my attention was Echinops. I wondered how nature could create something with such perfect symmetry with those almost electric blue flowers, they almost looked man made. In reality they may not actually be that perfectly symmetrical however to my eyes they are near enough.

The Globe thistle (Echinops ritro) is in the Aster family. The plants are native to Asia and Europe and the name means hedgehog in Greek, which is appropriately referencing the prickly blooms. They are perennial so will come back year after year and if left to roam, in a wild or naturalistic scheme, will provide a dramatic addition that will keep the local wildlife very happy – the bees love the flowers and the birds love the seeds.

Echinops ritro has been awarded the prestigious RHS award of gardening merit and when looking at the plant in full bloom, it is easy to see why. In late summer through to autumn, the globular heads of round, violet-blue flower heads appear, each on silvery, branched leafy stems. The handsome spherical buds grow to about the size of a golf ball, opening into flower from the top down.

Echinops is an undemanding plant that is tolerant of quite a wide range of soils, provided the top layer around the base of the plant drains well. I have seen it thrive on getting its feet deep into clay and they do equally well in the thinnest of soils too. It’s not just a garden plant either, the dramatic thistly flowers look just as good in a vase, making it a great addition to a cut flower scheme too.

The purple hues in the blue of echinops look great with pinks, such as Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum' or among astrantias and echinaceas, equally they will make great companions for the yellow and oranges too - lilies and achilleas, for instance. They also combine well with ornamental grasses, making them an ideal perennial to include in a naturalistic scheme. Whatever the scheme there is almost always a home for at least one variety of echinops.

Jobs to do this month include:
Ornamental Garden:
• Continue to deadhead, especially dahlias which should be looking great by now.
• Weed!!! – shouldn’t be too much of this but its best to keep on top of it.
• Keep the lawn mown and edges cut – due to dry weather you may need to raise the height of the cut if you want to keep your lawn green.
• Trim hedges – now the birds have finished nesting and time to get your hedges in order.
• Water – Any plants that are looking a bit tired and are wilting, are in need of a drink. If they look really bad then water immediately and then top up later in the day when its cooler.
• If you have any meadow areas then these should be cut and the hay raked asap.
• Spray and feed roses.
• Plant out autumn flowering bulbs e.g., colchicum.
• Remove lavender stalks and trim bush leaving some green fresh foliage.
• Order spring flowering bulbs.
• Ensure camellias have sufficient water to ensure flowers for next year.
• Clip evergreen shrubs.
• Prune growth of wisteria back to 5-6 leaves.

Vegetable Garden:
• Harvest Garlic.
• Sow oriental greens such as mizuna and mibuna, pak choi etc.
• Harvest early apples.
• Start lifting main crop potatoes.
• Summer prune trained fruit such as espalier apples, pears etc.
• Trim non flowering stems of grapes cutting back to one leaf from the main branch.
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