With its foot-long spikes and heaps of silver-green leaves, pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum) looks so right in Southern California that we might forget its origins in the Madeira and Canary Islands off northwest Africa. Not only does the plant thrive along our coast, but it even flourishes in drier, hotter inland spots, working its way across gardens and naturalizing in the hills, as it has in parts of Altadena and Mt. Washington.
A bold relative of the shy forget-me-not, pride of Madeira loves sun and well-drained, moderately fertile soil and grows quickly into a 6-by-6-foot shrub that can help anchor a slope or paint a backdrop for a flower border. Its own blooms erupt in early spring, in shades commonly ranging from robin's egg blue to royal purple. The Santa Barbara wholesaler, San Marcos Growers, has introduced two new cultivars, the sky-colored 'Select Blue' and the blushing 'Select Pink,' both available on order from local nurseries. For color-phobics, there's also a more compact--and harder-to-find--white form that appears occasionally in garden centers.
Whatever their hue, snip off bloom spikes once they fade and prune the whole plant gently to keep it plump. And after four or five years, plan to kiss it goodbye. Over time, echiums grow leggy and must be yanked and replaced. Meanwhile, they will have scattered seedlings around the garden, but only a few will be pretty enough to keep. Since they don't breed true from seed (subsequent generations may have paler, less striking blooms), you can take cuttings from a favorite plant and start a new one. Or buy a seedling from a nursery. Gawky and unimpressive in a pot, that tufted stem will soon become a giant, hoisting its proud blooms above the natives in its adopted home.