16 Aug 2015

Planting bulbs and alliums



Bulb catalogues are thumping through the letterbox so I'm thinking ahead to next year's garden with alliums on my mind.

I've been stopped dead in my tracks twice this year by the sight of alliums - once by a front garden where hundreds of hollandicum globes grew up through purple bearded iris and geraniums; and once more at the Hampton Court flower show where bulb suppliers, Jacques Armand, had a large and stunning display of alliums from huge to small to pendulous. It was a breath-taking moment that had me reaching for my purse.

While I enthused with the rep on that display about the beauty of these flowers, a chance comment gleaned me an excellent tip about how to grow them.  I'd divulged that the owner of the above-mentioned front garden (being a neighbour of my niece) had given me a dozen of his bulbs, freshly dug from the ground. Not yet knowing quite where to place them, I'd planted them at the bottom of a large container. That's perfect, the rep declared.

And here's the tip:  alliums like a long time to get established before temperatures drop. They're easy to grow but for the best flowers next year, plant your alliums as soon as you can (certainly by September) and bury them deep - 30 centimetres (12 inches) is ideal for the bigger bulbs. (The usual rule of thumb for bulbs applies: bury bulbs at a depth of roughly three times their size.)

They like a fertile but chalky or sandy soil so add sand or grit to the planting hole if your soil is on the heavy side. And plant where they'll get sun. (The irony of that phrase always makes me chuckle, given the vagaries of the British summer!)  They're perennials, spreading fairly quickly, so plant them a good 12 inches apart; the old gentleman who kindly gave me some of his bulbs told me that he'd started his display with one bulb five years ago and his garden was now full of them.

A very good reason to grow alliums is that they follow on from tulips.  My tulips light up the garden in spring and it's a sad day when they start to fade. By planting alliums, I'm anticipating that the garden will transition into early colour in May/June right through to July/August when other perennials will have taken over.  The first to show should be the Nectaroscordum siculum (Sicilian honey garlic) which flowers at the same time as tulips and irises and 'Summer Drummer' is a new bulb that should flower through to August. (Top right in photo below.)

A. hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' (top left) © Crocus,
A.'Summer Drummer (top right) © Jacques Armand
A.'Spider' (bottom left) © Sarah Raven/Jonathan Buckley,
Nectaroscordum siculum (bottom right) ©Unwin seeds
Images not my own. 

So, what will be planted in the garden? All in the above photo. I've a feeling that won't be the end of it though as I'll need more tulips so that the alliums don't clash with the existing ones.

If your soil tends to be a bit claggy, you can also grow alliums in a pot; they'd look lovely growing with Agapanthus or make a little prairie garden by planting with Verbena rigida and a grass such as Stipa tenuissima. I'm told they're fairly windproof too.


23 comments:

  1. Top tip on planting early Caro, though its a pain as of course tulips need planting later! Time I got my bulb order together, clearly...

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    1. I have lots of little twigs to mark where tulips and other bulbs are planted - it's such a pain when a perfectly good bulb is sliced in two through neglect! The plum tree is due a prune so I'll have plenty of twigs to keep me going - or I guess a dollop of sand to mark the spot would also work. Hideous to be thinking about spring bulbs when hoping the summer isn't over, though ….

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  2. Oh how you're tempting me Caro. I planted a dozen 'Purple Senation' when we arrived here. They all came up the first year, then only two and now they've disappeared completely. I blamed the mice, as I do for most things, but I'm wondering if it was in fact my heavy soil. I think I'll have another go. Planting them 12" deep may put the mice off too.

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    1. A combination of heavy soil and mice doesn't sound good. Definitely add grit and sand to the planting area if you have another go. I've just checked and the soil in the old man's garden would be chalky as it's at the Chiltern foothills. Keep us posted if you decide to give it another shot!

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  3. A good post. I've not grown alliums as yet and although I'd like to it's a question of space as always. I'll have to have a ponder! Flighty xx

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    1. They don't take up a lot of space, Flighty, as they can be grown through other plants (your calendulas, perhaps?) and pay dividends in the amount of bees that will visit your plot! Caro x

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  4. The purple sensation are wonderful, it's something I'd like to try one day. They really are dramatic eye-catching plants, and I shall look forward to seeing how yours do. CJ xx

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    1. I always admire them in other gardens and planting schemes so thought it was time to have a go myself. I'll keep you posted, CJ. C xx

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  5. A great tip, I have a few in the garden the ones in the raised bed always did well x

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    1. Thanks, Jo. Good to know that your raised bed alliums did well. Are you still growing them?

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  6. Lovely post. Prompted me to put in my bulb order to which I added Allium siculum plus 50 A.multibulbosum since they were the best thing in my garden this summer.

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    1. I've just seen your latest post, Sue, and seen that your bulb order went in. I like the look of multibulbosum - you may have further tempted me!

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  7. I love alliums and look forward to seeing yours next year! I planted honeybells, bottom right in your pic last year, it came up a treat and the bees absolutely loved it! My new purple sensation did really well too....good luck with yours.xxx

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    1. You can be sure there will be lots of photos, Dina! They apparently make a good cut flower but I'll be leaving mine for the bees, as I do with all my flowers. I hope my bulbs will do as well as yours have! xx

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  8. I love alliums too but didnt get a many come up this year in my Northern N facing backgarden so I'm going to have a go with them in pots for next year. I got some great ones at Tatton Park flower show too.
    hope yours grow really well :-)
    love bec

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  9. I planted some Allium Haarlem Superglobe and loved them, so more will be going in come September.

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    1. Ah, I don't know that one, Matt - I'll have to look it up. That's the great thing about blogging, you find out more stuff all the time - thanks!

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  10. My eyes were instantly drawn to summer drummer , it does look lovely and a bit different too! I didn't know about planting them asap, will have to buy some! Sarah x

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    1. I found it really hard to choose which to buy, Sarah. There were so many lovely flowers and I had to try and visualise what would go well in the borders here. I was very taken with 'Red Mohican' but wasn't sure what I could pair it with. I thought Summer Drummer a good choice as it wasn't too far from the colour palette! Caro x

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  11. Alliums are among my favourite flowers – you can never plant too many! I can testify to their strength as we're exposed here and ours get battered by the wind and survive. I'm impressed by your forward planning as I can't quite bring myself to think about planting bulbs for next year just yet...

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    1. As soon as it starts to feel a bit autumnal, I'm thinking ahead to spring and beyond. The appearance of spring bulbs is one of the best moments for me - it shows that the whole thing is starting all over again! Thanks for confirming alliums wind resistance, good to know!

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  12. MUST plant bulbs in time this year. Usually I find a bag languishing in the shed and it's such a waste. Good idea about the twigs - once again I have no idea where the alliums are that I wanted to move. You've got a lovely selection above - really like Summer Drummer.

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  13. I love that I can start to get some bulbs in the ground now and not wait until the bitter cold of November to have to go out and plant! I think we've all got forgotten bags of something lurking (mine was dahlia tubers this year) and I kick myself for the waste every time. I'm looking forward to seeing Summer Drummer in flower and am planning what to grow around them … something yellow, or lime green perhaps.

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Caro x

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