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Alliums and More

We are supposed to ‘live in the moment,” but that can very hard for a gardener to do as the seasons shift. I am putting the vegetable garden to bed and dividing and cutting back perennials, but I am also thinking about spring. I’m thinking about how long and dark the winter can seem and how hungry for color I get by the time March draws to a close.

If you are hungry for early spring color you still have time to buy and plant spring blooming bulbs.  There are so many choices from the earliest ‘little bulbs’ like snowdrops, scillas and crocuses to all the sunny daffodils and elegant tulips.

Over the years I have planted scillas which will naturalize in the grass. Given a generous enough initial planting or enough time they can turn a spring lawn into a reflection of the clear blue spring sky.

Blooming at the same time as the blue scillas are the frosty while snowflakes with the most elegant of green dots at the rim of the pendent bell shaped blossom. They too, will multiply in the lawn. Last spring I dug some up and moved them closer to the house where the snow melts earlier and where I can more easily enjoy that early bloom. I am becoming more and more devoted to moving early spring bloomers  closer to the house where I can enjoy them without a tramp through the snow..

Muscari or grape hyacinths come in varying shades of blue, from ‘Peppermint which is so pale it is almost white, to ‘armenicum’ which is brilliant cobalt blue. ‘Christmas Pearl’ is very blue and is an excellent variety for forcing. There is ‘White Magic’ which I have admired at the Smith College Bulb Show and Brent and Becky’s ‘Pink Sunrise’ is a shade of palest pink. There is even a yellow muscari, ‘Golden Fragrance’ described as looking like bunches of tiny yellow bananas.

I have pretty much given up tulips. I always lose them to moles and other creatures that eat the newly planted bulbs.  Even the pots of tulips I was forcing in my basement one year were eaten by mice. In this case the rodents win.

Daffodils come in so many forms and shades of yellow and white, spare and simple like the poeticus daffodil ‘Actea’ to the frilly brilliant yellow ‘Sherborne’. There is even a frilly and very pink daffodil named ‘Replete.’

My Van Sion Daffodils

When we moved to Heath we found a few frilly early yellow daffodils growing here. For years I didn’t know their name until I was reading a garden blog and someone talked about the ugliest daffodil he knew. It was MY daffodil, now identified as Van Sion. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder; I love the shaggy petals and the greenish tint. I also love the way it naturalizes. This antique variety is available at Old House Gardens.

This fall, for the first time, I am planting ornamental alliums. Like the little bulbs and daffodils, alliums are critter proof. I am even wondering whether planting a few alliums here and there throughout the perennial garden might keep deer away from more susceptible plants.  Hmmmmm.

There are many ornamental alliums suitable for the garden, mostly featuring a flower the size and shape of a baseball made of many tiny florets in shades of purple. Perhaps the most dramatic is A. giganteum which blooms in late spring and has a tightly formed blossom that can be the size of a softball on a four foot stem. ‘White Giant’ is a white form with a similar height.

Drumstick allium

Two smaller alliums, A. carinatum pulchellum and A. flavum have quarter sized airy blossoms that look more like a fountain than a baseball. It was inevitable that I would choose the pinky purple carinatum and not the bright lemony flavum.  There is always next year.  Both of these are good naturalizers and bloom in mid-summer.

Those who like making flower arrangements might pay special attention to A. jesdianum ‘Early Emperor’ which blooms early and has a strong stem, and an airy blossom.

I’ve also ordered the drumstick allium which has small, slightly triangular dark purple flowers. Brent and Becky say this allium looks great with Asiatic lilies. Maybe if I  plant them next to my gorgeous Casa Blanca lilies I will have lilies to exhibit at the Heath Fair next year and not have the deer eat them in bud. White and deep purple will look very pretty together.

Although not an allium, Nectaroscordum siculum, with no common name that I can find, has a strong garlic fragrance. Like the allium it has a two to three foot stem, which may need staking, and a flower made up of tiny pendant green-white bells. I know just where to plant these, in a bed where I have lots of pink – coneflower, dianthus, astilbe and astrantia. I have absolutely resolved to have more of the other colors in my garden next year.

Whether you love one single type of bulb, or want them all, there is time to add to your collection. Good luck in narrowing down the list.

Between the Rows    October 23, 2010

Sources: Your local garden center. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, 7900 Daffodil Lane, Gloucester, VA, 23061, www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com; Old House Gardens, 536 Third Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48103, www.oldhousegardens.com; vanBourgondien, PO Box 2000, Virginia Beach, VA 23450, www.dutchbulbs.com

5 comments to Alliums and More

  • It’s brisk enough this evening to be persuaded that you’re right; winter is coming and surely by March we’ll be starved for color (and hope). The argument for moving the blue scillas and the white snowflakes closer to the house, so that they’re the first signs of spring one sees from ones window is a convincing argument. As someone on the verge of planting a new, albeit small, courtyard garden that must offer hope for spring – and where each plant must not overwhelm or too much intrude upon the space – I will remembered your advice. And if the scilla really do reflect the blue of the sky, as you write, your suggestion will be invaluable. Many thanks, Pat!

  • Pat

    Flaneur – Your courtyard should be a perfect place for these early bloomers.

  • Except for a few crocuses, I’m finally done with planting bulbs. Tulips may not last long, but I just can’t seem to resist planting more each year. Last year was my first for alliums, though–a great addition to any garden!

  • Pat

    Rose – I just have one more handful to put in this afternoon.

  • I have many daffs left to plant. Love that allium. I do have a few of them and they naturalize quite well.

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