Ornamental Alliums, seeing stars in bloom

The first seriously beautiful  allium that I remember seeing wasn’t an “ornamental” at all. It was a plain old leek that wintered over, didn’t get harvested and burst forth in early summer with a fist sized globe of little white stars, on a naked 3 foot stem. Quite a step up, in more ways than one, from the purple powderpuff flowers of chives. I was immediately hooked.

First and still a favorite: the Star of Persia, Allium christophii, a 2 to 3 footer topped with a loose ball of silvery purple from 4 to 6 inches across

allium christophii, aka the Star of Persia

the Star is in the lower right  and the reason it’s tucked in there is that the foliage turns brown and wilts before the flower opens. Hiding it, in this case between  the hosta, the baptisia and the geranium, is essential.

The same is true of most of them, from  pingpong ball sized, deep blue A. caeruleum, about 18 inches tall, to soccer sized A. stipitatum, blooming at almost eye level on a stiff 4 or 5 foot stem.

The dead leaf problem isn’t as bad with A. flavum, one of the ornamentals that has bells instead of stars. (When not afflicted by drought) most of flavum’s threadlike leaves are still green when its tassel of golden droplets opens in midsummer.

allium flavum, golden bells

 A. flavum appreciates good drainage. With luck, these will seed into the wall. 

I’m not being pretentious with the Latin, btw. Like caeruleum, flavum has no common name. Most ornamental alliums are known by their botanical binomials, and when they have aliases it’s likely to be something like A. bulgaricum also being known as  Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. bulgaricum.

But a rose etc. and in fact one of the nifty things about these cousins of onions and garlic is that the flowers have perfumes that do not suggest you add olive oil.

Actually, the flowers of the edible alliums are also inoffensive. 

garlic chives in flower with bees

This mass of garlic chives, for instance, gives off nothing but a faint sweetness and although the bees adore it, none of our honey has ever been tainted by the least hint of the herb.

John Scheepers has good pictures; their wholesale branch, Van Engelen, has good prices; Odyssey Bulbs has goodies that other sellers don’t got.

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