Sea holly (Eryngium planum ‘Blaukappe’) is a gardener’s plant. It flops, it prickles, it attracts swarms of wasps of all species and sizes, which buzz about its steel blue spikes in obvious (to me, anyway) glee. This is a good thing, as the wasps hang around the garden and parasitize pesky caterpillars. I’m a long-time fan of umbels, especially the architectural angelicas and dills, but ‘Blaukappe’ sea holly is the most fascinating of the clan.
Now it’s not the easiest perennial to place in the garden. But fortunately, once you get a ‘Blaukappe’ blooming, it’s a simple matter to audition it in different spots. Cut the spiny sprigs after the blue fades to gray and toss them around. Late in the season I like to play the role of the flower fairy, plucking dried flower heads of various self-sowers—larkspur, sunflowers, woodland tobacco, bells of Ireland. As I envision drifts of purple, shots of yellow, or masses of bristly blue rising up in the spare spots of the garden and rescuing it from blahness, I fling seeds here and there. ‘Blaukappe’ doesn’t bloom the first year, so you have ample time to change your mind about where it should or shouldn’t go. Like a teenage boy (before noon) it likes to relax against or on top of any convenient surface—your patio, your concrete rabbit, your favorite geranium. So you have a couple of choices: you can compel it to stand up straight with sticks and string, or you can embrace its sea-holliness by being understanding about its lax habits, and provide it with something—a rock, a wall, a funky chair painted blue that you don’t mind sacrificing to the cause—for it to lounge on. I prefer option two. Years of trying to make plants, and teenage boys, abide by rules that go contrary to their natures have taught me when the payoff is worth it. And when it just isn’t.