I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that EVERYBODY in the entire universe love Alliums. EVERY single client of mine, the wives at least, mention them on their wish list. It might be that they have no opinion on what plant goes in their new garden as long as they get some of the “purple pompoms, you know the round purple flowers”? Yes I know. The Alliums. The wonderful Alliums.
Allium constitute a family of plants which counts over 500 species. They include ornamental onions, chives, garlic, and leeks and are closely related to the edible onion.
Not only they look spectacular and will bring to life any border but they are easy to grow, will come back every summer for years and years to come, are very attractive to pollinators, they also make excellent cut flowers, some of them lasting up to 3 weeks in a vase.
Why writing about them in September? you might wonder. Since they tend to flower in early Summer? Well because if you have missed up on them this summer and you really want some to punctuate your garden in 2015, you’ll need to buy bulbs now ready to be planted in early Autumn, which is…now.
Alliums thrive in a sheltered, sunny, open, well-drained site. They do not like cold, exposed or waterlogged conditions.
Bulbs should be planted at a depth of about four times the diameter of the bulb. Plant smaller growing alliums 8-10cm (3-4in) apart, taller species need at least 20cm (8in) between the bulbs.
10 favourite Alliums
Allium hollandicum “Purple Sensation”
They are a must. They start flowering mid-May so are a must for the early summer garden.
These ones bear white flowers in June and are very elegant.
Their seedheads look magnificent, leave them on for a month or so or bring into the house.
Cutback before they set seeds if you don’t want them to self seed everywhere.
They are later-flowering than most so I plant them in all my gardens in order to prolong the “Allium effect”.
They are enormous with flower heads up to 15 cms and will make a bold statement in your garden.
Nectaroscordum sicilum or Sicilian Honey garlic is a very close relative to Alliums. It’s a spectacular and intriguing plant which tolerates light shade.
A very delicate and pretty, early-flowering, pure white allium, smaller than her siblings. You can eat the flowers in salad.
Allium “Mount Everest’
Beautifull fluffy pom poms but white as you probably gathered.
Allium atropurpureum bear the darkest flowers and are shape more like an half sphere than a pom pom.
Allium schoneprasum or chives. They produce small and very pretty flowers. You will have to make a choice though: whether you grow them for their flowers or for their edible leaves. They are perfect to edge a vegetable bed.
The only problem with Alliums is that their leaves fade and start looking tatty just before the flowers come out, so always plant Alliums behind some medium height perennials or grasse. This way you will disguise the ugly leaves and let the flowers fill everyone with wonder.
Barbara Samitier is a garden designer who lives in Peckham Rye.
This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of SE22 magazine.