Know your onions, es­pe­cially the or­na­men­tal ones!

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Mediter­ranean Gar­den­ing by Lor­raine Ca­vanagh I al­ways think that al­li­ums suf­fer with their com­mon name – or­na­men­tal onion. It just doesnt´ in­spire desire, but it should! There are very few plants that can add such sparkle, el­e­gance, and longevity of flow­er­ing in a gar­den yet oc­cupy so lit­tle space. With over 700 species, they come in all forms – oval, spher­i­cal, glob­u­lar and the lat­est with crazy dread­lock hair­styles! They are pure stat­uesque flo­ral art and with a great pal­ette of colours, va­ri­ety of heights and bloom time, you’ve just got to get some into your life.

It was back in the late 1800’s that these cu­riosi­ties of the plant world started to at­tract real at­ten­tion. Rus­sian botanists be­gan col­lect­ing some of the spec­tac­u­lar al­li­ums from Cen­tral Asia and in­tro­duc­ing them to hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ists in the Im­pe­rial Botan­i­cal Gar­den of St. Pe­ters­burg. It was the start of a sub­dued pas­sion through­out the world, largely un­recog­nised by the masses. It has prob­a­bly been the ma­jes­tic dis­plays of al­li­ums at the Chelsea Flower Show; above all, that has in­tro­duced them to a wider pub­lic. And, once tried, I prom­ise you, you’ll be hooked!

They are tough and drought tol­er­ant plants, pre­fer­ring to be grown on the dry side and lov­ing sun­shine – sounds good, doesnt´ it? Al­li­ums are na­tives of dry, sandy soils with good drainage; many are from Eastern Eu­rope, Turkey and the lands that were once known as Per­sia. They have no se­ri­ous dis­ease or in­sect prob­lems and they will even de­ter deer, voles, moles, chip­munks, ro­dents and rab­bits! I’m not so sure about goats and wild boar! How­ever, they will at­tract bees and but­ter­flies. Ex­tremely hardy, many can sur­vive as low as -30C. They will mul­ti­ply nat­u­rally, so they can just be left to get on with it.

Their rounded flow­ers form great con­trasts amongst more mixed plant­ings, spiked flow­ers, huge leaves etc. and they are ex­cel­lent as cut flow­ers or the dried seed­pods make great Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions.

Even crammed gar­dens can take some al­li­ums as they dont´ need much space. The smaller flow­er­ers look lovely planted ‘en masse’ form­ing lovely drifts; try 10cm or 15cm spac­ing. Larger va­ri­eties can be planted in small groups of three or five, giv­ing them more space to de­velop their stun­ning heads. Try a spac­ing of 30cm apart for most, and up to 45cm apart for the true gi­ants. A good rule of thumb when plant­ing is that bulbs should be planted at least twice the depth of the bulb and three times the width of the bulb for spac­ing. Long known as the place to watch spring and au­tumn pas­sage of storks and rap­tors as they take the short jour­ney to and from Africa, this is also a pass­ing point for many seabirds, in­clud­ing Cory’s and Balearic Shear­wa­ter. In­dus­trial pol­lu­tion is a threat here, and pro­lif­er­at­ing wind-farms pro­vide an un­wel­come ob­sta­cle to pass­ing rap­tors.

La­guna de Gal­lo­canta: Most of you will know this as the place where vast num­bers of Com­mon Cranes gather in Novem­ber, hav­ing crossed the Pyre­nees on their way south. Here con­tam­i­na­tion and ex­ces­sive ex­trac­tion of wa­ter for In warm cli­mates like ours, it al­ways pays to plant a lit­tle deeper and ap­ply a high potash feed to help de­velop good roots and bulbs. If plant­ing in con­tain­ers try and plant to the same depth, though spac­ings can be less to cre­ate a full-look­ing pot. Use a good qual­ity com­post and con­sider form­ing lasagne lay­ers us­ing dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties in lay­ers, start­ing with the largest bulbs at the bot­tom.

Al­lium caeruleum is a lovely azure blue, one of the few true blues. Its flow­ers are much smaller, like golf balls, but abun­dantly pro­duced and to­tally lovely. Half page colour pho­tos, cul­ti­va­tion, prop­a­ga­tion and prun­ing ad­vice. Three in­dexes. Latin, English and Span­ish. Cross ref­er­ence sec­tion Avail­able at most book­shops or email flo­re­na­s­pain@hot­mail.com ir­ri­ga­tion pur­poses is a ma­jor threat, as wa­ter lev­els drop an­nu­ally.

Al­lium christophii, known as the Star of Per­sia for its huge starry metal­lic amethyst flow­ers some­times as much as 30cm across. It is par­tic­u­larly suited to dry con­di­tions.

Al­lium Eros, named af­ter the Greek god of love, this is a de­light­ful al­lium bear­ing pink/ lilac domed flower heads to 10cm across. Clump­ing and spread­ing in the most charm­ing man­ner.

Al­lium Gla­di­a­tor is one of the tallest with big laven­der mop-heads up to 15cm across atop 1,5m stems – it’s strik­ing and sweet smelling too.

Al­lium vineale ‘Hair’ Newish, bizarre and crazy, this is the bad-hair-day al­lium! Very dif­fer­ent from the usual pom­pom shapes, the cen­tre is pur­ple sur­rounded by er­ratic green hair-like ten­drils.

We have all of these al­li­ums in stock and lots of other great bulbs for spring flow­er­ing. Next week I’ll tell you about more of them. Mean­while, check out our web­page for de­tails of bulbs in stock. The plains of Tru­jillo/Cáceres: A great area for Great Bus­tard, sand­grouse and other ‘steppe’ species. Threat­ened by the ur­ban spread of the city of Cáceres, and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of elec­tric­ity ca­bles and py­lons, a haz­ard for low-fly­ing birds and perch­ing rap­tors alike.

The above is no more than a taste of the prob­lems faced by our wildlife – more top­i­cal is the threat posed by the rag­ing fires in Gali­cia and As­turias – not to men­tion the en­vi­rons of the Coto Doñana. Do your bit and join the SEO (So­ciedad Es­pañola de Or­ni­tología) – their web­site is www.seo.org.

Au­douins (ringed)

R-C Pochard If you have any ob­ser­va­tions or queries, you can email me at mal­caves@ya­hoo.es

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