Echinops ritro

The steel globe thistle, like the eryngiums , has a spiky structure which often appeals to contemporary painters who view the garden in unsentimental terms. A tall plant, it has stout, branching stalks topped by round prickly heads of steely-blue flowers which give it its name, echinos being Greek for a sea-urchin or hedgehog. The large grey-green leaves are pinnate, and downy underneath, and have spiny tips. Echinops ritro flowers in mid- to late summer, will grow in any soil, and needs no staking. It has great attraction for moths and bees.

I think the metallic blue looks best with yellow flowers, and suggest the rounded shrub Hypericum ‘Hidcote’ behind, which will be covered with large, yellow, saucer-shaped flowers in the same months, and, of the herbaceous yellow summer plants, the verbascums, or mulleins, would associate well.

Plant E. ritro in full sun in a group of three plants (for a bed of middling size) 2 feet (60 cm) apart. Certain varieties, of which Taplow Blue’ and ‘Veitch’s Blue’ are outstanding, have flowers of a more intense blue than the species.

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