Alliums are the ornamental relatives of garlic. This year, with lots of rain and cool temperatures, they sprouted early and went to bloom outrageously creating glorious garden pictures. And, since there are so many varieties on the market, it's possible to have one form or another bloom for the next month or so.
First to pop up in my garden was Allium "Purple Sensation," which made a huge blast of tantalizing purple. Bees and moths flocked to them. One of the serendipitous qualities of these bulbs is that some of them seed around seductively. In this case, a few bulbs have been so prolific my neighbour is also a beneficiary. They were originally planted next to Molinia "Sky Racer" and now could only be viewed as a mass planting surrounding a very large grass.
Next to appear, but this time very carefully added to the garden, have been long-stemmed white beauties: Allium nigrum. Never a huge fan of white alliums, I saw them years ago en masse at Rideau Hall, the Governor General's residence in Ottawa, and thought they looked dramatic. So a dozen A. nigrum went into a bed where they could be seen from every angle and backlit most of the day. Heaven.
There are other forms even more exotic: A. christophii, which I manage to grow one at a time, looks like a starburst of lapis lazuli. I'd love it to seed, but it doesn't waste time on that. It was carefully placed to contrast with the stiffness of a nearby hydrangea and the fluffiness of a Lespedeza "Gibraltar" (a superb perennial and, alas, not available any more).
Allium bulgaricum is a Mediterranean species which has an explosion of downward-nodding lily-like blooms off a central stem. It comes in the palest of bronze/purple and does take a while to establish itself. Don't give up on it. It's worth the wait.
Catalogues such as Botanus.com have 19 different kinds of alliums and I don't see one I wouldn't want to grow. But I do have a caution especially with the little ones: They will sprinkle themselves through a small rock garden so quickly you might want to be careful where you plant them. One of the most gorgeous ones, with a vase-like bloom of intense hue, Allium purpurea just doesn't seem to work in my garden, though I will try it again this year and maybe put it in a sunnier spot.
Alliums adore the sun. Respect that. Although planted in autumn, they bloom once other plants have started to grow, so take the height into account and tuck them in small groups around other plants to disguise the yellow detritus the fading foliage leaves behind. Plant them in a hole about twice the depth of the fattest part of the bulb in soil that drains well. I usually smoosh them in together which is how they look most attractive. Plunking one every 30 centimetres (as tags suggest) looks way too peculiar for most gardens. Make any arrangement loose and graceful.
Alliums range in colour from pure white to deep purple with lots of rosy pinks in between and look gorgeous in arrangements. It's a stellar bulb and neither squirrels nor rabbits will ravish them – a high recommendation indeed.
For more plant information: www.marjorieharris.com