The march of the Alliums July 06, 2015 09:00

I have become rather tired of seeing alliums rearing their showy heads in herbaceous borders, where they have become ubiquitous over the last few years.  They have all too obviously been planted for the instant structure they provide, and for the nod to current fashion they are making.  As a cutting flower however, they provide infinite possibilities.

We planted 1000 bulbs in 8 varieties in our new flower field last autumn, each chosen for their contrasting height, colour and flower heads.  All are hardy and prefer to be planted in full sun, sheltered from the wind and not over fed with manure.  The field proved the ideal planting environment and although I haven’t done a count I don’t seem to have suffered any losses mouse-related or other. 

As the tulips began to fade in May the alliums started their march across the soil,  each type huddled together as a different battalion, distinct in their uniform and their purpose. 

The first to flower were the tall and elegant A. multibulbosum nigrum, their compact white heads immediately ablaze with bees.  These proved one of the most useful of the alliums to include in bunches, for both their height and the fact that their relatively small head size means they can be clumped together in groups – more so than their neighbour A. white giant, which proved quite ungainly.

The purples followed, the deep violet A. spider first (a cross between A. schubertii and A. atropurpureum) succeeded by the herbaceous border favourite A. aflatunense purple sensation.  I probably won’t dig this row up at the end of the summer, but I won’t be planting any more.  Perhaps I am just bored with seeing it in too many gardens, but I do find that its dense, football shaped heads lack subtlety and don’t suit my tapestry style of arranging.

The true stars were the last to flower, and how starry they were. A. christophii, or Star of Persia, has an umbel (flower head) of 8 – 10 inches across, loosely formed but with large individual flowers.  It is fabulous both as a freshly cut flower and dried in wreathes or garlands.  A. schubertii, probably the most ornamental of onions, is even bigger than the christophii, and has ridiculously stubby stems in order to support the weight of the head.  I often have one or two of these at the base of a huge hand-tied bunch, but most are left in the field to feed the bees before being harvested and dried.

I will appreciate the alliums all over again during the winter months.  I will craft new creations out of their skeletal forms, some sprayed in an antique gold and others left bare as nature intended.