HOW TO GROW ALLIUMS
Those rich violet spheres bring joy to every garden
CHOOSING alliums for the garden is both a pleasure and a challenge. Do you spend your money on good old ‘Purple Sensation’, whose rich violet spheres on stems to 3ft (90cm) make effective border punctuation marks? Or do you try something different, such as ‘Ambassador’, ‘Powderpuff’ or ‘Pinball Wizard’?
For evening, the white spheres of ‘Mount Everest’ bring ethereal beauty, the starry flowers touched with green and eventually black centres. Then there are unusual alliums with flowers like exploding fireworks, springing stems such as the drumstick allium
or surprising shades of deep purple, blue or yellow.
These are the ornamental onions, the showier members of the onion tribe closely related to garlic, leeks and chives. Planted as bulbs in autumn, they settle down to flower year after year, mainly from May to July but at their stunning best in June, alongside lavender, lupins, roses and peonies. Bees and hoverflies are attracted to the nectar-rich flowers and the heads mature and develop attractively, going through several phases before forming parchment-like seedheads.
This ability to die gracefully presents the gardener with a dilemma. We are sometimes instructed to deadhead, because they will often seed themselves about. I would generally view this as an asset, but allowing them to make seed is also said to drain the bulb and potentially jeopardise the size of the next year’s flowerheads. Nevertheless, I treasure ours, so I allow them to stay put. By way of compensation, I make sure the plants are well nourished while in leaf.
Look out for this foliage, because it emerges from bulbs in spring and by flowering time, it’s often yellowing and dying away. As this is not a pretty sight, you should make plans to masked the sad leaves with the foliage of other plants, such as hardy geraniums – an easy task, since in June everything wants to grow with great abundance.
In fact, you can have great fun devising some clever combinations of alliums with roses, grasses and herbaceous perennials.
Allium cristophii is a classic and does well on heavier soils. Short, stout stems 24in
(60cm) tall bear magnificent spheres up to
8in (20cm) across, filled with starry flowers of shimmering violet A. sphaerocephalon (drumstick allium) adds drama to border displays