Now’s the Time —The Versatile Allium, Always a standout!

by Donatella de Rosa

September is one of my favorite months— I look over my various perennial beds making decisions; some lethal, some regenerative, some purely aesthetic, others simply to satisfy a whim or an unusual must have plant. The tired, spent plants have either died back, or been removed. Shrubs have been pruned and the garden has been tidied up— all before I take the fall planting leap.

Now’s the time to see what needs —or doesn’t need— to be done to keep the perennial beds healthy, always keeping in mind the need for winter interest, spring rebirth, summer and fall blooms. This is when my imagination takes over.

It’s time to move the iris’ and the peonies if they need more space. Transplant the tree peony that’s just not getting the right amount of sun or plant some new hydrangeas —Pinky Winky paniculata is one of my favorites — time to make all those changes you just didn’t get to over the summer and plant new plants you’ve never tried before. This is an especially good time find some bargains at your local nurseries.

Best of all, it’s time to plant spring bulbs.

As I surf the internet trolling for new enticing bulbs, I look for plants that promise to excite as they start to poke through the ground. I try to imagine combinations that will promote continual blooms — always a challenge!  What can I plant under that tree?  What plants need to be taken out all together and what can I try in their place? These are but a few of the questions roiling around my head as I try to decide just what to do. And so for me, “these are the best of times and the worst of times.”

There are many, many bulbs to choose from — a succession of early, middle and late blooming daffodils, maybe some tulips, or species tulips or both? Maybe.

This year the bulb whose attraction, for me, is as strong as that of two magnets circling one another, is the amazing variety (think size, color, even shape) of Alliums —any or all of which would be a stunner in your garden beds. There are many, many plants to fall in love with, some lose their charm eventually, yet alliums never disappoint. The sheer versatility of these spring flowering bulbs, the enormity of their visual impact always leaves me in awe.


Alliums and Ornamental grasses, photo from the blog; Thinking Outside the Boxwood, thinkingoutsidetheboxwood​.com

Alliums can be used en masse, in smaller groups clumped amid lower growing plants, or scattered among later blooming perennials whose foliage will hide the alliums’ leaves as they dry out and disappear. It’s sheer joy to see these globes of color standout above other early bloomers, mixed in with ornamental grasses or erect against a backdrop of shrubbery.

The genus Allium, the Latin word for ‘garlic,’ includes, the onion, garlic, chives, scallion, and the leek. The many Allium species (260 to as many as 979), offer colorful, long-​​lasting blooms that are standouts in the early-​​summer garden. Alliums are deer resistant and those pesky chipmunks will generally ignore them.

Here are just three stand outs from the many gorgeous and unusual allium bulbs to choose from:

Allium bulgaricum (Nectaroscordum); Common Name: Sicilian Honey Lily. Also known as Nectaroscordum siculum var. bulgaricum. The creamy, bell-​​shaped blooms are tinged green and pink as they hang from baseball-​​sized flowerheads. The gray-​​green leaves take on interesting spiral twists and the papery, seedpods turn upwards as they mature. Bulgaricum will self sow.

Allium Bulgaricum

Allium Gladiator.
Large lavender-​​blue florets with a sweet pungent scent create tight, globe-​​shaped heads the size of a softball atop 3-​​4ft stems and is great with Bearded or Siberian Iris.


Allium Globemaster, image from Longfield Gardens, longfieldgardens​.com

Allium Globemaster. This is the biggest Allium yet. Small, silvery purple florets form 8 – 10 inch flower heads. ‘Globemaster’ gets its size from its A. cristophii parent, (similar to the A. schubertii below). The florets are packed more densely, creating an imposing and brilliantly colored globe. The globemaster blooms in late spring.

Allium Schubertii

Allium Schubertii, image Sarah Raven blog/​ sarahraven​.com

Allium mix2

The genus Allium, remarkable — often strange and always a knockout — belongs in every perennial garden. You’ll find one to suit every whim, to fill any space, to enhance any landscape and you will have no regrets… just plant them and see!

Featured image; allium-​​karativense-​​ivory-​​queen, photo from John Scheepers catalogue


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