Alliums are good with hamburgers, flowers
Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 8:01 pm
What’s a hamburger without a thick slice of Vidalia allium? It’s no burger at all.
Alliums — onions to the untutored — are for eating or viewing. The allium genus contains everything from giant edible onions to tiny ornamentals with dime-size blooms, and on, in the other direction, to flowering species with heads the size of soccer balls.
Most often thought of when flowering alliums are mentioned are the latter, the ones with purple, mauve and lilac clusters of bloom presented in a perfect spherical form. These are spectacular in the late spring garden but aren’t otherwise the worthiest of the lot.
These, with varietal names such as Globemaster, Gladiator and others, produce their clusters of tiny flowers in those gigantic globose heads some three feet above the ground, soaring over columbines, late tulips, spring phlox and other things of the season.
Their foliage, however, strappy and plenteous, goes off in rotting tatters, often even before the blooms are finished. It’s is a tough assignment to deal with all that haulm, and it can’t be cut away before it fully withers, lest next year’s bloom be weakened.
I once tried them, but have quit. That foliage problem was one reason, but they also proved to be short lived in our garden.
Smaller ornamental alliums have been another story. Most have been reliable and permanent, increasing at the root and by seeding, but not to the point of nuisance.
Among the large ones, the one I pine for the most is Allium christophii, with loose softball-size heads of star shaped silvery blue-gray flowers. Growing to a foot tall or so, it is easier to place and blend than the other taller giants.
Alas, I got only one or two years of bloom from it on more than one occasion. It grows to perfection in the British garden of the late Christopher (appropriate) Lloyd, increasing from year to year.
Most of the small alliums I have are white and of long forgotten varieties. They grow eight to 12 inches tall, and increase every year. They have worked their way all through my perennial borders, where they are nice filler plants, coming into bloom as we speak.
One, however, is much taller, with a tight head of maroon blooms about the size of a walnut. It is Allium sphaerocephalon (don’t ask), the drumstick allium. It tops out at 30 inches or more, and is liberally (they’re cheap) planted throughout our red border, where their dark heads tower over daylilies, salvias, Red Dragon persicaria, red beebalm and the like. They would, I believe, be a nice contrast to pastels also.
The drumstick allium is said to naturalize, so I put a few into our meadow garden last fall, and hope they will stick. They bloom there with transplanted wild yellow coreopsis, crimson clover and ox-eye daisies.
In 2007 we saw an impressive planting of thousands of Allium caeruleum, formerly identified as Allium azureum, (the latter specific epithet more descriptive of its bright blue color) in Chicago. It was at the relatively new Millenium Garden near Navy Pier, a municipal undertaking that revitalized the area.
That allium (indeed azure as the sky) was used enmasse with native ornamental grasses, forbs and other prairie inhabitants that reflected the Illinois countryside not far away.
I was so taken by it that upon our return home I immediately whipped out my fall catalog from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, from which I have long ordered. Fortunately, Allium caeruleum was relatively inexpensive and I bought 100 of them, most of which went into our old rock wall border with other pastels. We’ll see.
All alliums are not desirable. Wild onions and garlic are, of course, alliums and are despised by every lawn freak in the country.
They are, admittedly, difficult to eradicate, but if we would remove our “mind-forged manacles” and just view them in some wild meadow we would be forced to admit they are attractive. You would not, however, purposely introduce them into a civilized garden.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 5.19.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path