The Echium pininanas growing in the Italian border at Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens, near York, have surpassed expectations, with one now 4.3 metres high – the same height as a female giraffe.
Natives of the Canary Islands, these Echiums typically grow to between 2.5m and 4m and can take up to two years to reach their full height. Some of the flowers on the Echiums at Beningbrough are still to open, meaning they could still be growing, helped by this year’s mild and dry winter and spring. They were planted three years ago.
Gardener Kate Wilkinson, whose job it is to measure the plants had to get a stepladder and attach a measuring tape to the end of a bamboo cane to complete the task.
Head gardener Sam Shipman said the 4.3m giant was already getting plenty of attention from visitors.
"Everyone who walks down that part of the garden has instantly noticed it," he said. "Kate has identified it as Plant of the Week, which led us to think about measuring it. You see them in the borders everyday you realise that they’re getting taller and taller and they’re getting to look quite unusual."
Sam and his team hope that publicity from the Echium will draw in more people to visit the gardens, which feature Italian, Victorian and even horse-racing influences, traditional herbaceous borders, sweeping lawns, formal gardens and beds, wildlife areas, and a restored working walled garden.
"I think we’ll pick up some extra attention regionally and nationally. It will maybe start conversations as to what people can grow in the north as well. It all helps the publicity side from that point of view."
Wilkinson added: "The Echium plant, typically lives two to five years. They wait to grow and flower and they produce one spectacular flower and then they die. These are certainly the biggest of their kind that I’ve seen. There might be gardens in warmer parts of the country that can beat ours, but I think we’re in contention for northern champions at least."
Shipman also said the Echiums help to tell the story of the 3.2-hectare garden, which was created to complement a new Baroque mansion commissioned by a young aristocrat inspired by a Grand Tour he had just completed, which included two years in Italy, and was completed in 1716.
"We are this kind of Italian Baroque palace in north Yorkshire," he said. "The Echiums give the garden this Mediterranen climate feel. It feels like they belong here. It's a nice story to tell."