Seeing Stars

If you don’t count chives, the first allium flower I planted was a leek that didn’t get harvested. Next spring there was a flower spike and not long after that, in early summer, a great big ball of little white stars that lasted about 2 weeks.
After that, the deluge. Every year there are more of the genuinely ornamental kind (the kind in the back of the bulb catalogs, after you go past the tulips and daffodils and crocuses and lilies and just about everything else), because even though they come back reliably it’s very hard to stop buying.

Favorites include:

* the fireworks special A. schubertii (not the composer. A 19th century naturalist/plant collector named Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert). It has pink stars that shoot out on long stems from a tight ball of other pink stars; a truly amazing effect.

* The graceful yellow A. flavum, which blooms in midsummer and is always in peril of being weeded out…until the flower stalk comes up it looks an awful lot like tall onion grass.

* A. bulgaricum, now Nectaroscordum bulgaricum. It has pink and green striped white bells instead of the more usual allium stars.

Allium christophii, the Star of Persia, is almost as lovely in the dried state as when fresh (and pale purple). This stem is about 3 years old and has been being used as outhouse daécor. I just stuck it in the pachysandra next to the barn in order to take the mugshot.

Christophii is an exception; most alliums don’t have common names. What they do have is one big flaw: leaves start turning yellow and dying just as the flowers bloom. Bulgaricum sometimes stays green throughout , but you can’t count on it. And most of the others are worse.

Solution? Plant alliums where the the leaves will be hidden by more obliging plants – even pachysandra will do. Just keep them out of the front of the border unless you want to see the gorgeous blossoms rising from decidedly unpoetic ruins.

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