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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alliums...The Wonderbulb!

Allium Header copy
Even though the Allium season is just starting, I thought I'd take a moment to talk about just how much I LOVE them.

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Let's start with the obvious thing...they are purple...which you know I love. To make things even better, even the ones that aren't straight-up purple are in some varying shade of pink/lavender/violet...so you can pretty much plant any of them you want and know they'll all look amazing together.

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Here on Rhone Street, the Alliums start their awesome floral extravaganza just as the Tulips are finishing, coinciding with the middle of the Iris season as well. The color is, well, amazing. Seeing these jewel-like flowers appearing around the garden, it's hard to believe they are related to the humble onion.

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Allium atropurpureumAllium 'Purple Sensation'
Their foliage appears in early spring, and starts to yellow even before the blooms appear. Luckily, the foliage wilts away and disappears after they are done blooming...and the little that might remain is covered quickly by growing plants. If you are like me, around the end of July I get sick of looking at the yellow, ratty foliage of so many other spring bulbs. A bulb whose foliage doesn't smother its neighbors is worth its weight in gold.

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I think Alliums are one of the best bulbs to mix around other plants...they have such a striking, graphic form in the garden...and I love those little "dots" of brightly-saturated color that seem to float in the air.

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Common Chives are also Alliums...and to see a large clump blooming is a sight...they are beautiful (and yummy).

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Of course, the thing that, for me, really makes Alliums the "Wonderbulbs" is the fact that their seedheads persist until winter...and look amazing...I'm tempted to say they occasionally even look better than the flowers that preceded them (depending on the mood I'm in).

Allium and Geranium Ann Folkardallium stars
Seedheads of Allium 'Purple Sensation'Allium christophii
The photo on the left is of Allium 'Purple Sensation' in my garden last summer...don't you love that amazingly spherical seedhead...and the black seeds are the icing on the cake. Among the most fascinatingly beautiful of the Allium seedheads is Allium christophii, on the right...those widely-spaced starbursts...amazing!

Allium seedheads
Another Allium gone to seed at the Bellevue Botanical Garden...perhaps 'Gladiator' or 'Globemaster'? Again, I love how those vibrant, saturated flowers have given way to a subtler, earthier palette of pink and straw.

Allium 6
I leave you with an image of an Allium spectacle I can only hope to someday even come close to reaching...the display gardens at Joy Creek Nursery, last year...DROOL!

49 comments:

  1. They are wonderful aren't they. Boy howdy that last photo is full of inspiration!!

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    1. I know...I often refer to past photos taken there as inspiration for my own garden :-)

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  2. One o fmy favourites has to be Allium christophii, my OH loves to dry the dead heads and spray them different colours for christmas.

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    1. I agree...that one is particularly sculpturally striking...I love seeing people re-use them like that!

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  3. I love Alliums too! I ordered some bulbs for planting this fall, but I did get a couple already potted up this spring, and they are just about to bloom here. That sea of Alliums from Joy Creek is pretty amazing!

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    1. OMG...I hope you post pictures of your Alliums...I need to really do that this fall as well :-)

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  4. I totally agree that the spent seed heads might be better than the living display. Alliums rock!

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  5. Allium christophii...this I must have. Beautiful post Scott.

    (there is a guy about a block from us who drove his old truck around for a couple of weeks with an dried Allium seed head stuck in the broken antenna, loved that!)

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    1. Hahahahahahaha...love it...only in Portland, right!

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  6. OMGosh, Scott. That first photo is amazing. I love how you were able to set the focus on that lovely allium. My problem with alliums is that I'm always moving plants around and I tend to inadvertently spear them with my shovel. :) Enjoy the sunshine, Scott!

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    1. Oh dear, Grace...I've done the same thing, unfortunately...it's why I've resisted planting many bulbs up until this point...I keep thinking I need to have the main structure of the garden in place before placing those bulbs, or I'll end up digging them up...oh well...I realized I'm never going to be "done"...so figured I might as well risk it ;-)

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  7. I probably had over 500 Alliums of different species and cultivars in my fathers yard in NJ. They are the one thing I really miss now that I live in CA (though I am going to try a few species this fall and see if any of them make it). Allium christophii is definitely a favorite but try Allium schubertii as well. 'Purple Sensation' should be planted in the hundreds and the big Alliums like 'Globemaster' are a must have too. Mine increased one year from 5 bulbs to about 30.

    They are a great plant for the north east for bridging the spring garden (which is often over all too fast because of sudden heat waves) and the summer garden and their developing seed heads add further interest.

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    1. Wow...500 Alliums...that must have been a sight to behold! I agree...they really are most effective planted in great swathes...and I love their long-lasting seedheads :-)

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  8. Alliums are awesome! I am so glad to see you profiling them. While the alliums with the big globe flowers are what originally attracted me to the group (I still adore them), alliums in general are a much larger and more versatile group that what most people think. If you search out some of the rhizomatous forms like 'Millennium', 'Summer Beauty', 'Sugar Melt' and Allium thunbergii 'Ozawa', you would be able to have alliums blooming from midsummer through late fall as well. Of course, they provide a very different garden effect than the spectacular spring globes, but they are beautiful nonetheless and beloved of pollinators.

    One thing that I have read about with the huge globe alliums is spray painting the remaining flower heads after the florets fade. If you paint them in shades of lavender/blue, you might even fool people to think they are still blooming long past their usual season. I am not sure if this would look tacky or not, but I do want to try this.

    I am currently growing Globemaster, Ambassador and Gladiator. Of the three, Ambassador is the most robust with GIANT rosettes of foliage (i.e., less polite when playing with others) and stems that are currently 4 feet tall and still tightly budded. I am sure it will be amazing when it blooms, even if it is a space hog right now. Globemaster and Gladiator are much more compact and easier to "tuck away" in my garden borders, and they are both blooming at the moment.

    I also have Allium cristophii, A. sphaerocephalon and A. caeruleum tucked into my garden beds, as well as many rhizomatous hybrids that were just planted a few weeks ago. I have already booked a few new types to plant this fall from Odyssey Bulbs in Massachusetts, and I started several rhizomatous types by seed this spring. I have tiny seedlings of Allium obliquum, A. wallichii, A. rotundiflorum, A. ramosum and A. mairei.

    Along with true lilies, hardy geraniums and phox, alliums are my favorite garden plants!

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    1. OMG...yes...I forgot all about A. sphaerocephalon...probably because it's not blooming quite yet! I actually think it's the most useful of the Allium.s...being so very small...but so awesome when blooming...looks great tucked in all around the garden. I just really found out about the rhizomatous ones this past winter, and definitely want to add some to my garden this year...although I've not seen them sold locally, for some reason. Guess I'll have to resort to mail order yet again. I was thinking of 'Summer Beauty' to start with...or do you have a recommendation?

      Good to know about Ambassador...I can never remember which is which when it finally comes time to purchase the bulbs...I usually end up grabbing more Purple Sensation!

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  9. Hi Scott,

    Lovely photos and of course Alliums are beautiful blooms! Mine are just beginning to split their skins and open. I can't wait to have them in full bloom and to take some nice pretty images.
    I've pretty much stuck to Purple sensation as they seem to have the best shape... My Christophii disappeared a few years ago and I haven't bothered to replace them yet.

    Looking forward to seeing photos of your Allium show too :)

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    1. Aren't they wonderful...the color is just amazing...and they really do have such nice form :-)

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  10. I agree, Scott. Alliums are one of my favorite. I have grown all of the ones you mentioned. In my garden they only last a few years, each year getting smaller, until finally they are gone and I have to start over planting them. The only ones that have reliably returned for me are the drumstick "sphaerocephalon" allium. This variety blooms later than the rest with 1-inch egg-shaped flowers.

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    1. I kind of thought the same thing, Zoey. I had thought they lasted longer, but the ones that are about 3 years old are noticeably smaller and less vigorous than the ones I planted last spring...drat!

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  11. Yet another plant to try................

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  12. Wonderful tribute to Alliums. They really look great in every phase. I love the "peeking stage" the most – how an earth can a big flower fit in such a tight package? And those Alliums in the last photo seem to float in the air... so pretty!

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    1. Hahahahaha...so true...it's amazing watching them burst out of their skins, isn't it!

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  13. Hey -- no fair one-upping my first Allium post ever! ;-)

    I'm going to have to plant more of these *everywhere* I think.

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    1. Oops...not intentional, I assure you :-) I agree...I need more, more, MORE!

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  14. What a wonderful post. I read somewhere that they take forever to grow from seed. Christophii seedheads are my favorite.

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    1. I believe it...I have a few seedlings that have shown up this year (I'm assuming that's what they are) and they are just 2 or 3 thin little leaves!

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  15. I love alliums, too. I added drumstick alliums to the garden last fall and can hardly wait to see them bloom this spring/summer. I did grow giant alliums once and their foliage was so wide and strappy they suffocated the plant next to it. Bummer...

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    1. Oh yes...I love the little Drumstick Alliums...they are so wonderful...and they really ARE amazingly easy to fit around other plants...plus, they bloom a little later than most of the Alliums...so extend the show a good bit. Good to know about the giant Alliums...as I'm not a fan of the big, strappy leaves ;-)

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  16. I so agree-- alliums are like no other plant. The spheres of bloom seem to just hover over the other plants -- kind of like those light spheres that occur sometimes in photographs and are ghosts or not, depending upon who you ask. You remind me that I need to get some more bulbs of these amazing flowers-- they are either short-lived or I treated them poorly since mine disappeared after a few years.

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    1. Absolutely...they are totally surreal...aren't they! I'm wondering if they aren't a little short-lived as well...the ones I planted a few years ago are definitely not as vigorous as the ones planted last fall.

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  17. PURPLE! Yay! So pretty Scott - I enjoyed all of your pictures very much. I have some chives, but they are not blooming yet...I am extra excited after seeing all your pictures. What a great post devoted to alliums - man there are a lot of them!!!!! :)

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    1. Hahahaha...purple indeed...my biggest weakness! Seriously...there are so many...and I think I just scratched the surface.

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  18. I love Alliums too, Scott, yours are a bit ahead of mine. I thought they would repeat flower really well in my free draining garden but they don't return as much as I'd like. The last shot was lovely but your own garden looks pretty great and allium filled to me. Christina

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    1. I do wonder exactly what conditions you need for them to really settle in and multiply...as mine aslo seem to peter out after a few years...hmmm.

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  19. Beautiful pictures. They are amazing plants. I added bulbs of A. caeruleum and A. sphaerocephalon in the autumn, which have pushed up leaves and stems but no sign of flowers here yet, and have germinated a dozen seeds of A. christophii, a few of which will hopefully reach maturity! I'd love to add A. 'Mount Everest', Purple Sensation and A. obliquum in years to come too... and probably a few more!

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    1. OMG...sounds like you're going to have QUITE the collection once all your seedlings have matured! I also need some of the white ones...I've been so obsessed with the purple ones, I need a little white for contrast :-)

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  20. You have me drooling at the display garden with those allium. Love purple!! My friend Linda gave me a couple of her Yorktown Onions, just about to open. They are about 3 1/2 feet tall.... just super! Will be planting more allium, and letting them reseed (to a point )

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    1. Hahahaha...I know...they have one of the loveliest displays of Alliums I've ever seen...not just in quantity, but in how they are used. OMG...I hope you post pics of the Yorktown Onions...they sound stupendous!

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  21. Hi Scott! I love alliums too, even though The tallest ones tend to disappear in my heavy soil. I always had good results with allium aflatunense (and Purple Sensation), in fact this year I tried 20 bulbs mixed of a.a. and a.a. Purple Sensation but Incredibly only 7 out of 20 managed to sprout and flower. I had already imagined a drift of dark and light purple bubbles floating around and I was disappointed indeed! Have you aver tried allium Schubertii? It's a firework, much bigger than christophii, beautiful really. I have some drumstick allium too and some azureum but actually I can't distinguish the two until they flower...

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    1. Oh no...so sad your Allium dream was thwarted :-( I have to admit, a few of the ones from a year or two ago didn't come up for me either...same deal, wet soil seems to lead to a shorter lifespan...drat! I haven't tried Schubertii yet...I plan to...but it's so short, I need to find a good spot closer to the front of the garden for it :-)

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  22. I could love them too! Just wishing I had a half hour and my camera to spend with yours! Beautiful shots!

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    1. Thanks, Cat...they are really lovely, to be sure :-)

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  23. The other part about alliums that I love is they need very little room to grow, so you can tuck them in with the fluffier garden plants and they come up between as delightful little (and big) surprises. Beautiful shots, as always!

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    1. Absolutely...it's great to be able to just tuck them in and let them add little "pops" of color and texture...then disappear gracefully as the other plants fill in!

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  24. I couldn't imagine a garden without alliums, nor many a tasty meal without a hint of them. They also photograph well, or should that be you photograph them well?

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    1. Hahahaha...to true...beautiful AND useful :-)

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