episode 81 | show notes & advice
Alliums are often known as the summer spectacle firework display plant and are equally stunning when dried and kept as winter or Christmas decorations. There are some new breeds on the block and in this week’s episode, Sarah and Arthur share their favourites of the new collection, some interesting thoughts on the direction these new breeds are taking in terms of their genes (and height), as well as a few old favourites..
In this episode, discover .....
- Sarah and Arthur’s favourites from the new breed of alliums
- Breeding alliums, in particular some of the interesting characteristics of the new breeds
- Ongoing and well-loved favourites
- Growing leeks for their flowers
- A good tip for chopping onions
- Alliums as dried-flower arrangements and Christmas decorations
Episode 81 advice sheet
The new breed of alliums gives you something very different, not so much in their flower, but in their incredible height. Passionate about bringing vertical lines and structure into garden design, whether it’s with foxgloves, eremurus or linarias, Sarah particularly loves these new allium stems for adding something so valuable in terms of architecture and height.
· ‘Summer Drummer’
- Thislooks like a drumstick, and at 7ft in the air, it’s the most statuesque thing in the garden
- It was the most asked about plant during Perch Hill Open Days
- Mid to late summer flowerer so extends the allium season
- Stands well above Sarah’s head, looking like a massive giant’s leek
- Sarah intends to plant more every year for that all-important verticality
- A wonderful, unusual plant with a really strong vertical presence in the garden right now
- Quite pricey but worth it and it looks like it’s naturalising
· ‘Red Mohican’
- A very interesting architectural shape with what looks like a croquet hoop at the top; the stem comes up and the head hangs down, and sometimes even turns up again, almost like a shepherd’s crook. This is because it hangs its head and then, as it opens, it lifts its head and becomes vertical.
- The globe is more of a deep rich crimson, with Mohican-style tufts coming out the top
- Shaped like a mini-Schubertii (the size of three footballs), with some flowers close to the heart and others starry and right out on the horizon, like a shuttlecock
- Wonderful curves and unusual twists in their stems so they don’t rocket up in a vertical line
- Similar to Schubertii in sweet honey scent, which helps draw in the pollinators - particularly good for bees
· ‘Eros’ or ‘Rosy Dream’
- Very soft pink
- More modest in size – the globe fills the palm of the hand
- As florets start to dry on the plant, they turn a beautiful silvery-white, to give give you a lovely mix of white, silver and pink
- Makes a really elegant, dried flower, their pink pigment fading gracefully
· ‘Early Emperor’
- The clue’s in the name, it’s very early
- Such a dense disco ball with huge leaves, which, like all alliums, you can take off once they look past their best.
- The flowers are getting on for 5ft
- Huge stinky bulb to plant but worth the effort and pretty perennial
- Incredibly tall
- Arthur loves this one, which has been coming back for four years now
- Looks like any normal allium head and then fuzzes out and keeps this lovely blackcurrant, marbled, almost mulberry-purple colour
Much-loved favourite alliums
- ‘Purple Sensation’ – an absolute stunning plant
- ‘Christophii’ – incredible value because it’s field pollinated, so a bargain and completely perennial with globes the size of a football
- ‘Schubertii’ – enormous – globes the size of three footballs, with a sweet honey scent
- Nectaroscordum siculum (Allium bulgaricum) the busiest with bees of any plant in the garden in May
Interesting genes in the new breeds
- Having seen wild leeks on the Cornish coast, standing at 8-9ft tall, Sarah thinks some of the genes of the wild leeks must have been bred into these new alliums. Interestingly, Welsh onions – in the same family, also have a crooked neck look to them, rather like the ‘Red Mohican’.
- Perch Hill’s Head Gardener, Josie Lewis, has a love-hate relationship with alliums because they divide and self-seed so much, and canopy out over more delicate plants. However, Sarah has noticed with ‘Red Mohican’, ‘Forelock’ and ‘Summer Drummer’, the foliage appears to be finer and dies back much quicker, meaning the balance between the impact of their great height and their leaves is in their favour.
Growing leeks for their flowers
- Sarah always tries to sow more leeks than they want to eat, leaving some to flower.
- They’re a biennial, so from sowing last year, they’ll be flowering this spring / summer.
- They rocket up with silvery-grey and pale mauve flowers – exactly how you’ll see them in the wild.
Tip for chopping onions
When chopping onions, traditionally we start by cutting off the root and the tip, before peeling and chopping. A tip given to Sarah by Clarissa Dickson Wright (best known as one of the Two Fat Ladies), is to leave the tip intact as that’s what makes your eyes water more than any other part of the bulb. It also helps to hold the whole thing together when chopping.
Alliums for decorating
This is something to do yourself, as they’re not usually sold dried in garden centres, but according to Arthur, “well worth the effort”. Last year he dried hundreds of ‘Christophii’ from a beam in a barn.
· As soon as they start to go brown, take them out of the garden and hang them upside down somewhere airy and dry, like a greenhouse
· Once they’re really dry, binbag them and put them in the attic
· Don’t leave them in a damp shed as they’ll go mouldy
· Don’t underestimate how many you’ll want for real gobstopper glamour
· Dangle them from the ceiling using very fine cotton to hang them
What to do with your alliums now
If you’ve already got alliums in your garden, don’t forget to bring the seedheads in, because if you leave it much longer or there is a lot more rain, they’ll turn to mush or just blow away.
Christmas tree – Fir with alliums or Silver birch
A Silver birch is somehow more sustainable, elegant and ethereal, however, a Christmas tree is lovely with the craziness of the alliums meeting the fir. In terms of decorations, you don’t need much more, other than lights, to make it look absolutely spectacular, meaning your tree decorations are also completely free.