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.