Growbag Blog

Keep calm and allium on!


Strong and stablefor the many not the few; politicians seem to have drawn on alliums for a number of national campaigns. There aren’t many gardens which don’t have these wonderfully architectural plants dominating their beds in June.

Allium moly – in the unwanted gift section?

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. 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.

Another menace is wild garlic (rather thrillingly called Allium ursinum as 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 comes from the dry habitats of Iran and therefore needs a well drained sunny spot (you see it’s 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, Aschubertii.

A little different from most alliums’ trademark purple – A. ‘Red Mohican’

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’ (readily available from catalogues like J Parkers) – 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 (does anything in your personal life spring to mind?). 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…


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!

Allium ‘Beau Regard’ – sterile, despite its big balls

You have to forego the satisfaction of reeling off specific varieties to your more knowledgable visitors (pretend to have forgotten; avoid stuttering ‘mixed mauve, B & Q’ if you can) 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 spheres 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’ which flower for ages because they’re sterile…. despite their big balls!

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, just pop your email address in here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

6 replies on “Keep calm and allium on!”

You know the answer to that one Harry! By the way did Jenny see our reply regarding the geranium Mrs Kendall Clark? She is rather a mystery I’m afraid but there is some info. I hope your voice is improving Harry – I know how frustrating it must be. Lots of love, C xx

Hi – just discovered your ‘3growbags’ blog (via a notification from MY sister – Christine Jones from your Chelsea blog fame!). (Sisters rule!!) Most enjoyable chuckles going on here! Also, I’m sure I remember Laura from my time working at Brinsbury – small world, same Hometown, too! Must get back to my weeding now! – All the best! B xx

Hello Brenda, glad you enjoyed our blog, and that you too have an engaging sister! Yes Brinsbury always used to do very well at Chelsea back in the day, I got involved in a show garden that displayed the endemic flora of Madeira…which is no doubt one of the reason Caroline considers my horticultural leanings to be rather pretentious! Good luck with the weeding – it’s a never ending job, Laura

On what to sow in the allium gap- I sow all my annual poppy seeds in the gaps between alliums after the alliums have raised their heads to say where they are- it protects the poppies from me weeding them by mistake, and they either compliment the alliums, colourwise, or as in this year, come of their own in the space provided…they are so late germinating this year (April frosts?May rain?)

Frances you are an inspiration. I can see how this works so well. Caroline here, and my issue with poppies is the foliage to blooms ratio (as in lots of foliage) and they can take up rather too much room in most of my beds but they would work well with alliums given that the foliage of the latter seems to fade away as they start to bloom. Thank you very much for this. And yes- everything is incredibly late this year but personally Im quite enjoying that! Love to you XXX

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