7 Best Alliums To Plant This Week

Growing alliums makes me happy. I love their versatility, their diversity and their sheer brilliance in the spring borders. They are equally at home in cottage gardens, amongst perennial grasses, in containers and as an architectural feature throughout contemporary planting schemes. I’ve grown quite a few varieties over the years and have reliable favourites which always make it into the garden alongside new additions each year, chosen either for their striking colours, interesting shapes or to extend my allium season. With their dramatic globe-flowers fading to structural seed heads, alliums create interest in the garden for much of the spring, summer and into autumn (as I type, the tall ‘Cristophii’ in the back border are still punctuating the late summer rosemary growth).

Bee Happy

Allium flowers delight the bees – in fact at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show this year on the allium stands, it was hard to decide whether the displays were there to celebrate the flowers or their apian companions. This adaptable plant can be used in so many ways in gardens and containers, depending on the size and height of the flowerhead and the density of planting. Alliums can be planted in the next few weeks in borders, cut flower patches and pots – so here are my favourites, either planted in my garden or to be added this year…

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The bees loved these Allium ‘Giganteum’ at Tatton Park

1. Atropurpureum

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This is my absolute favourite allium for its graceful shape and rich crimson-purple starry florets with deep smoky plum centres. It has real presence in the border, but is subtle enough to co-exist happily with other alliums (I grow it in the narrow herb border beneath the espalier apple trees alongside ‘Cristophi’, ‘Purple Rain’, ‘Purple Sensation’ and ‘Sphaeracephalon’). At around 75cm high, they create continuity throughout the long, narrow border without being imposing and the thick stems make them ideal for cutting.

2. Purple Rain

I first grew this allium a couple of year ago and was delighted by its spreading firework flowers. As a cross of A. ‘Purple Sensation’ and A. ‘Cristophii’ it is a reliable allium with sturdy stems up to about 1m. I grow it beneath the windows in the front gravel garden where it thrives and, unlike many of the bulbs in the back garden on our clay soil, in the front sandy soil by the foundations ‘Purple Rain’ has proved consistently perennial.

3. Mount Everest

Another of my front garden alliums, A. stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’, creates a striking contrast dotted within drifts of purple alliums such as ‘Purple Sensation’, or it can be planted en masse for greater impact and set off against the dark foliage of shrubs like Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ and Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’. The creamy white flowers also emphasise the fresh green allium foliage and the pea green eyes at the centre of each floret.

4. Cristophii

IMG_20170511_164912‘Cristophii’, or star of Persia, lives up to its name with its spiked purple florets touched with silver. At around 50cm and with its imposing, yet intricate globes, it encourages the eye to focus on the details in a border, which in my garden always includes bees feeding from the florets. ‘Cristophii’ is a reliably perennial allium and the seed heads are long-lasting. Last year we collected the ageing seed heads and after a few weeks drying in the shed, sprayed them silver to use in a Christmas display with dogwood stems and fairy lights.

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5. Red Mohican

I met this allium at Chelsea last year and have been wanting to add it to the garden ever since. Its funky topknot gives it a modern charm which would add a sense of fun to a border and I love the rich burgundy colour dotted with creamy white florets. A rather more expensive cultivar than some, this would be good to dot through a border with white alliums or the darker A. atropurpureum.

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6. Purple Sensation

One of the most popular alliums, A. hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’, marks many people’s first foray into allium growing, mine included. Its bright purple spheres create impact in large drifts, but also look spectacular under planted with blue Camassia leichtinii or the greenish-yellow flower clusters of Marsh Spurge (Euphorbia paulstris). It’s an affordable allium, so can be bought and planted in greater numbers than some of the rarer cultivars.

7. Sphaerocephalon

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These small, late-flowering drumstick alliums are a cheerful addition to the July garden. They can be planted in swathes against paths and border edges to soften the margins and lead the eye through the space. ‘Sphaerocephalon’ also look great mixed in with grasses such as Deschampsia cespitosa and Stipa tenuissima. I’ve been growing this variety for several years and unlike the larger alliums in the back garden, not only is ‘Sphaerocephalon’ reliably perennial, it also self-seeds along the path edges. With its tight, rich blackcurrant heads it creates a dramatic flash of colour and can be bought in bulk to create maximum impact as it is the cheapest allium bulb available.

Growing Alliums

Allium bulbs should be planted in early autumn, so this week is a great time to place an order or start getting your bulbs in the ground. They prefer well-drained soil in full sun, so if you have heavier soil (as I do), it is a good idea to use a handful of grit (about 5cm depth) under each bulb to improve drainage. They should be planted at 3-4 times their own depth to help ensure they remain perennial. Smaller alliums should be 8-10cm apart and larger ones 20cms. After planting, firm down the soil to remove air pockets and add a balanced fertiliser in spring on poorer soils.

Over the past few years I’ve mostly bought my allium bulbs from Sarah RavenSuttons and JParkers, all suppliers of quality bulbs with good allium ranges to choose from.

What are your favourite individual alliums and combinations? What spring bulbs are you most excited about planting this autumn?

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Mix of atropurpureum, ‘Purple Rain’, ‘Purple Sensation’ and ‘Cristophii’ seed heads

Banish the September blues with my top 10 tulips

It’s been a dreamy summer holiday. We’ve been swimming in the sea, learned to ride without stabilisers, lost baby teeth, wandered around maize mazes, explored woodland dens and returned from the allotment stained with raspberry and blackberry juice. Now, in the first week of September, there’s school on the horizon for both my 7 year old and my reception baby – how can 4½ years go so quickly? Tonight I watered the garden in the dark for the first time for months, the first James Grieve fell off the apple espalier and my Rosa ‘Jacqueline Du Pré’ dropped her final petal. There’s still plenty to celebrate in the garden – the never-ending greenhouse chilli, tomato and cucamelon harvest, the thriving purple Brussel sprout plants in the allotment and the quinces maturing under their furry down in the side garden. But there’s been a subtle shift in both my family and my gardening life, and I can’t help feeling that it will never be quite the same again.

When the September blues strike, I am grateful that the cycles of life draw me forwards, planning, reading and shaping the new year in my mind. As the autumn catalogues arrive on the doormat, my thoughts turn, squirrel-like, to bulbs which can be buried over the next few months ready to herald the arrival of the new spring. Over the past few years I’ve spent countless hours on my knees with a trowel in the back and front gardens planting  daffodils, fritillaries, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, alliums and tulips – hundreds of massed tulips. Mostly this furtive activity takes place at dusk, in the snatched half hours after the children are asleep, with evening life going on all around me, unaware that I’m crouched in the shadows, preparing for spring.

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My favourite spot for relaxing – not that that happens much!

Planning my tulip display involves remembering old friends and opening the door to new acquaintances. I do browse catalogues with a cup of tea in hand, but I also revisit old photos – reminding myself of displays which lit up my garden in the past and also combinations in other gardens which I’d like to get to know better in the future. Over the years my love of tulips (the thrill of seeing such vivid colours and delicate forms so early in the year) has grown as I’ve explored their use in public and private gardens. Now I’d like to share my favourites in the hope that they might help and inspire others in turn.

1. ‘Ballerina’

One of my favourite tulips for its perennial nature, its zingy colour and the way its shape and hue changes as it matures. Initially almost red, it matures to a bright orange with red stripes down the middle of each petal. It looks stunning on its own, for example as an edging plant in these images taken at Capel Manor gardens…

It thrives in my gravel garden despite clay soil, although I do plant all of my tulips with a handful of gravel beneath each bulb. I combine ‘Ballerina’ with ‘Queen of Night’ in the front gravel garden. In the back flowerbed it blooms alongside ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Queen of Night’ and blue forget-me-nots and never fails to lift my spirits when I see it emerging in the spring.

The versatile ‘Ballerina’ thrives in the back garden, front garden and in pots

2. ‘Swan Wings’

Generally I favour simple shapes and colours with my tulips, but I photographed ‘Swan Wings’ years ago at RHS Wisley and have always wanted to grow it. I think this year it’s time to try it out and I might pair it with red Bellis perennis as in my image, to create contrast and impact.

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3. ‘Queen of Night’

I love deep purple/black flowers and foliage, and I use them in my garden and my work as often as I can. I’ve been growing ‘Queen of Night’ for years and find it reliably perennial. It combines well with lighter purple and orange tulips, but also looks stunning with white or off-white bedding plants. I’ve combined it this year with the wallflower ‘Ivory White’ which I grew from seed and was very pleased with the result.

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I can’t resist getting up close and personal with plants and ‘Queen of Night’ has the most glorious interior

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‘Queen of Night’ standing proud

4. ‘Monte Carlo’

As a general rule I’m not that keen on bright yellow flowers and only have this tulip because it was sent as a part of a mixed set. However, when it emerged this spring I was surprised to find myself making detours past its pot in order to get another blast of its exuberant power.

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I’d never have chosen this tulip, but now I’ve watched it bloom it’s staying on my list

5. ‘Prinses Irene’

Possibly one of the most beautiful tulips I’ve ever grown, ‘Prinses Irene’ is a subtle, understated winner. I love the Sarah Raven ‘Venetian Tulip’ collection and have grown it for several years both in pots and in the ground. I’ve never had much luck in the border beneath the apple espaliers as the bark mulch seems to attract the slugs early in the year which then eat holes in the tulip leaves and flowers, twisting them as they emerge. This year, in pots at the front, they have thrived and I’ve been impressed by the new addition to the collection – ‘National Velvet’ in place of ‘Couleur Cardinal’ – which has a superb colour and sheen.

‘Prinses Irene’ and ‘National Velvet’

 

6. ‘Purissima’

Another favourite (perhaps I should admit they’re all favourites!) is ‘Purissima’ with its white/cream flowers which open up to a dinner plate size in the sun. It is another good perennial tulip and has lasted several years in big pots in the garden.

In pots with wild strawberries at the back and with mixed muscari at the front

7. ‘Shirley’

‘Shirley’ was the only tulip in the first garden I owned, although I didn’t know its name at the time. I loved its soft markings and photographed it in wonder. I think it’s about time I grew it again…

‘Shirley’ in my first ever garden

It looks great in a pot (here at Capel Manor with ‘Jackpot’) or in borders (here with ‘Paul Scherer’ at the back)

8. ‘Purple Prince’

I grew ‘Purple Prince’ a few years ago to create a purple accent against the orange of ‘Ballerina’ and dark purple of ‘Queen of Night’. Then I decided I preferred the orange and dark purple on their own and marked the ‘Purple Prince’ tulips so I could remove the bulbs after flowering. Two years on they are still appearing en masse in the flowerbed and I’ve decided they can stay. Instead I grow ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Queen of Night’ on their own in the front. Then a serendipitous combination this spring pleased me very much – ‘Purple Prince’ emerged in front of the foliage of my Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’. Try taking my ‘Purple Prince’ out of the border after that and I’d have something to say about it!

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9. ‘Zurel’

When we moved into my current house 6 years ago there was a purple and white rembrandt tulip in a border we had to remove to make room for the apple espaliers. I replaced it the next year with ‘Zurel’ – a striking, upbeat tulip. Unfortunately the bulbs didn’t reappear this year – probably because I overwintered the pineapple sage which was sharing the same pot in the greenhouse and they dried out. The area at the end of the vegetable beds hasn’t looked the same and we definitely need to get our stripes back next year.

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 10. ‘Paul Scherer’

This tall, almost black tulip creates maximum impact paired with white tulips like ‘White Triumphator’ or ‘Snowstar’, or with other white flowers. Here the underplanted white forget-me-nots (Mysotis sylvatica ‘Snowsylva’) make the tulips look like little black holes floating above the ground, absorbing all the light.

More tulip images from my albums which have me reaching for the catalogues…

Which tulips can’t you be without and which new ones have bewitched you? Leave me a comment so I can make my wish list even longer  😉

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