Allium addicts unite…

we have nothing to lose but our marbles. Especially if, like me, your garden may not feel the same way about alliums.

My London garden, my first proper garden, ended up stuffed with plants. As time went on there was less and less of it devoted to grass as I extended existing beds into the lawn or simply dug up huge parts. I had, and still have, a stone urn and pedestal combo (subject of yet more Chelsea haggling, and which knackered the front seat of my Mini transporting it home), and it had pride of place. It was backed by a bronze Cotinus and surrounded with alliums, and it was spectacular at this time of year. So when I moved it north-westwards I thought I’d try and recreate the look.

Hah.

My Welsh garden sneered at this example of metropolitan assumption, and – I suspect – ate the alliums. So I tried again, this time in another place. Nope, though one did grow (and continues to flourish) behind the greenhouse, where I know I did not plant it. Over time, I have come to understand that this garden has a pronounced personality, and that it will do what it wants to do and very little else, and that it will just not tolerate some things. When it comes to alliums, it has strong views.

Ramsons, yes:

ramson

no problems there. And completely independently it will produce tons of the other form of wild garlic, the one with the weedy straggly leaves, which spreads like b****** and which requires either major excavation or the use of Agent Orange to dispose of it. Dispose of it? I’m fooling myself again: control it. Slightly.

But I will not be deprived of my alliums, so I grew some in pots. That worked, and I was pleased with the effect:

potted alliums

which rather begs the question of why I decided to dig them up and plant them out. Admittedly, they’re in the new Capel bed – it backs against the wall of the chapel house next door – which is almost the driest bed I’ve got, and will give them the best chance, but I’ve still only had two of eleven produce flowers. The garden evidently noticed.

It hasn’t, so far, recognised these as an allium:

allium siculum

though it is their first year, and that might change as it realises that Nectarscodosum siculum is now reclassified as A. siculum (evidently my garden is using an old edition of RHS Plants and Flowers when it decides what to reject). I have been warned that these will join in the spread-fest of the wild garlics, but will they? I wouldn’t bet on it. Plus they’re so lovely that they’re welcome to spread wherever they wish, though I may regret this statement.

And, in defiance of the prejudice and in a spirit of wild optimism, I planted some A. christophii in the Capel bed. The stray back-of-greenhouse allium is a christophii, so I might get away with it. I do hope so:

opening...

I find myself stopping to adore these when I should be doing other things, like spreading slug pellets. The flower buds are so huge and fat and promising before they burst, and the individual floret buds seem rather improbable, almost as though they belong in some William Morris-style interior or on the set of a fantasy movie. They’re heraldic, but not a heraldry I recognise; there’s definitely an almost-alien elegance about them.

A.christophii

They look hard and spiky and odd, but they look good here. Which does surprise me, because generally the odd doesn’t work in this garden (Angelic gigas, while fascinating, was definitely a mistake). They’ve opened very slowly – the weather has been, and continues to be, not very good – but that’s just kept the suspense working, and I have found myself really enjoying their gradual appearance. I’ve got ten. What’s the betting that next year I have two, and one of them has shifted to behind the greenhouse all by itself? I don’t care; it’s worth it for this year.

And now it’s time to battle the slugs which, although they don’t much care for alliums, are really, really enjoying the irises. Who knew?

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16 thoughts on “Allium addicts unite…

  1. VP

    My Allium Christophii have self-seeded like b*****y, but who cares when the effect is an amazing river of purple alien steel-like spikiness at this time of year? Not I. Every year I tell myself to thin them (especially when they’re at that awful leafy nothingness stage), but I never get round to it.

    Never get round to it – that’s the story of my garden really. Sigh.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Maybe that’s how the mystery allium ended up behind the greenhouse… I wonder? I love the dead flower heads, but have never managed to grow anything from the seeds. Maybe it’s time to try again – and, like you, I think I’d forget to get round to thinning them out. Fingers crossed (and hoping this doesn’t fall into the ‘be careful what you wish for’ category).

      Reply
  2. Pauline

    I try each year to introduce more alliums into the garden here, I would love more, but they dwindle away-shame! I keep trying them in different beds and I keep trying different varieties, I am determined to succeed! Why do we always want to grow what our gardens don’t want? I wish you success with your efforts!!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I’m so glad it isn’t just me – maybe we should both give up? No, don’t be silly – we can’t always let Mother Nature win… (???)

      Reply
  3. Christina

    I think one problem with alliums is that that need more water than we think. This year after our very wet winter I have lots, some that I haven’t seen for a couple of years, I treat them like an annual now to be sure of having them. Of course, that is also a function of how they’re produced, the bulb suppliers want us to have to buy every year. Christina

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      You are quite right, on all three counts – though I think I have perhaps managed to drown some in the past. I’m an ideal customer for bulb companies really; I just can’t give up on alliums. Back to pots perhaps. Now there’s a thought…

      Reply
  4. Anna

    Oh has that nectarscordum changed its name yet again Kate? I can’t keep up with it. I’m sure that if you are persistent that the alliums will feel the love and will eventually establish themselves. Have you tried allium sphaerocephallum? Not a big flower head and as showy as some but a good doer. It self seeds but not to the extent of being a bane.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      It has, and it confuses me all over again. Grrrrr.

      I think I had sphaerocephalum, but they seem to have vanished. Unfortunately I suspect I know who to blame – me and P. We were weeding the bed they’re in and they look very like couch grass at a certain stage…. Maybe the bulbs will recover. I do hope so!

      Reply
  5. Cathy

    Your usual giggle-producing post, Kate, and some interesting discussions on alliums – someone has just mentioned to me after a recent post that Nectarscodosum/siculum can spread around which I wouldn’t have known, but perhaps there some truth in what Christina says, as those I have did not even open last year but are flowering away happily now (but not yet spreading!). I have found christophii are the most reliable of mine but Purple Sensation are doing well this year too and survived the heavy rain on Saturday.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Hi Cathy… I bet they don’t spread with me, but on the other hand I’ve just found a random christophii in the meadow (!) where I know for sure it wasn’t planted. I think I must have been carrying seed heads to the bonfire heap, maybe a few years ago… so they can seed themselves, even here. Just not quite where I’d like.

      My purple sensations are down to two. Hm.

      Reply
  6. Janet/Plantaliscious

    Thanks for the giggle, your garden is a bit of a dictator, methinks, hope the name change continues to fool it, because Nectarscodosum siculum (stupid name) is gorgeous. Now added to my ever lengthening list. I wonder how my garden feels about alliums. I planted very few last Autumn, just some ‘Purple Sensation’ and sphaerocephalon. Oops,. no, just checked, atropurpureum not Purple Sensation. I wonder why… Anyway, they are currently just leaf-like protuberances, just beginning to develop little bobbles on top. I really hope my garden doesn’t share your garden’s anti allium prejudice, as I love them too. And I don’t want to have them in pots. I’m not good at looking after pots. Can’t wait to see the full fireworks of your A. christophii – what have you got them planted with?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Oh it is, it is. Sometimes a benevolent dictator, sometimes not so. It knows what it likes and it doesn’t particularly like alliums. Or quite a few other things, but hey. It does seem to be quite happy with some alliums I don’t particularly want – notably the form of wild garlic that isn’t ramsons – but I think it only does it to annoy because it knows it teases.

      I am a bad gardener in that the christophii were a last-minute addition to a bulb order and I’d not planned where they were going to go. They got put in the new-last-year Capel bed and there they will stay, but nothing got planted around them. Behind, however, is a stand of foxgloves and they look good together. Especially if you lie down on the ground, due to the slope of the land.

      Reply
  7. Emily

    Hi, Kate!

    I am an aspiring illustrator and I absolutely fell in LOVE with the picture of the Sicilian Honey Lily! I took note of your statement that images are subject to copyright while looking for a means to contact you; thus, I would like your permission to use your photo as a major reference to draw from (I want to become a botanical illustrator). The website link I’ve provided will show you some of my art that I have done, with my favorites being the flora.

    Your garden is lovely and so is your taste in allium!! Please do not feel obligated to say yes if you’d rather not. 🙂

    Thank you for your time!

    Reply
  8. welshhillsagain

    I am definitely another allium addict here. What puzzles me is that I can get them to grow and thrive and multiply in one bed in the side garden and pretty much nowhere else. I love everything about them.

    Reply

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