Strong and stable: for the many not the few; politicians seem to have had alliums very much on their minds going into this election. There aren’t many gardens which don’t have these wonderfully architectural plants dominating their beds in June.
It’s a funny thing about alliums – we use the Latin name for all the decorative ones, and common names – onion, garlic, chives etc – for the edible ones. The pretty ones are the kings of the June garden – and a calming sight this morning after such a divided election result. I love Allium christophii with its hundreds of violet metallic stars. The seedheads of this one will keep their shape all winter ready to be marveled at during your Christmas lunch.
Since I’ve already blotted my copy book by mentioning the ‘C’ word mid-summer there might be some alliums you won’t want Santa to bring.
Allium moly for instance: starry little yellow flowers that I suppose a Classicist ought to be happy with (the Lotus-Eaters slept on them, according to Tennyson, and Odysseus used moly as a charm against that mad lass, Circe), but they are rather weedy and pungent…not something for your restful bower, particularly not if you’ve been up all night watching David Dimbleby.
Another menace is wild garlic (rather thrillingly called Allium ursinum because they’re apparently irresistible to brown bears) which throng woodland banks with pungent white starry blossoms in spring. Don’t for goodness’ sake plant them in your flower-beds; they may make a delicious sauce with pasta, but they rampage through a cottage garden quicker than fake news on Twitter.
It’s all very well for Elaine to witter on about the classical background of their scientific names, and how to deter brown bears from our gardens, but what people really want to know is which are the best ones to plant and where in the garden will they thrive.
The trick, as usual, is look at where the species originates from. The indispensable Allium christophii, common name ‘Star of Persia’, obviously needs a well drained sunny spot (you see its not always necessary to have a degree in in Classics to work these things out). Other crowd pleasers that like the same conditions include A.’ Purple Sensation’, A. sphaerocephalon (the drumstick allium) and that flower arranger’s dream, A. schubertii.
The Dutch growers W. S. Warmenhoven had a great show of alliums at Chelsea Flower Show and have enough varieties to satisfy a serious allium obsession, (Warmenhoven are at Chatsworth Show this weekend). Their clean lines make alliums a popular choice with contemporary garden designers as some of the trendy new variety names suggest – ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Red Mohican’ etc. a far cry from the ‘olde worlde’ charm of Louise’s Great Plant this Month..
The great thing about alliums is that once you have got them established in the right place they will flower reliably for years, unlike tulips which are all mouth and no trousers, with a great flamboyant show in the first year and disappointment from then on as they, like Jeremy Corbyn, wrestle with the challenges of delivering on generous promises. One problem I haven’t cracked is how to fill the gap left in the border once the alliums have had their fling. It’s a long shot, but maybe Caroline knows the answer….
So condescending, but in fact, and my sisters can roll their eyes all they like, the secret with alliums is to get them from B & Q. Yes in Scotland we like a prudent approach. You can buy big bags of them for about £2.99 – and often a second packet free! You have to forego the satisfaction of reeling off specific varieties to your more knowledgable visitors (top tip: pretend to have forgotten; avoid stuttering ‘mixed mauve, B & Q’) but there are hidden benefits.
At this price you can afford to plant them in the sort of numbers that Sarah Raven calls a ‘drift’ and I call ‘shed loads’. Also, while they might not produce the huge balls you get with A. ‘Globemaster’ or A. ‘Gladiator’, you can, ergo, plant them more densely and achieve a knock-out blaze of colour. Just pop them in over the winter and off they go, flowering the very first year.
I’m not sure Laura actually does need suggestions on what to plant to fill gaps left by faded alliums. She could splash out on some of those giant varieties like ‘Beau Regard’ many of which flower forever because they’re sterile…. despite their huge balls.