Great Garlic and Gorgeous Alliums – Plant in Fall, Enjoy Right Now

So far, no summer for us in Maine – and not much in the Hudson Valley, either. But that won’t stop autumn from arriving in about 5 minutes. Time to get the fall bulb list together and I’m not just talking tulips (and daffodils, crocus, muscari, scilla …)

Not by a long shot. After all the spring beauties are done there’s a whole new round of effortless delight, thanks to the alliums. Ornamental types shine in June – especially in weather like this on account of they’re rainproof – and of course there’s garlic: scapes right now, mature bulbs in mid to late July.

Walking through the garden these last days I see I don’t have enough

Allium Christophii

Allium christophii

aka the Star of Persia ( let’s hear it for liberation in Persia!) and because for some reason I only have one clump of

Allium bulgaricum

Allium bulgaricum

aka Nectaroscordum siculum ssp bulgaricum (anyone ever hear of a common name?), I don’t have nearly enough to cut for

allium bouquets

allium bouquets

Yes, those are garlic scapes in there, escaped from the kitchen to show off for a minute, something they do very well by themselves.

garlic scapes as decor

garlic scapes as decor

That said, my favorite solo act really IS best solo, though shown here with a Star of Persia just for comparison.

A. bulgaricum on the right, being dwarfed in more ways than one by ( the somewhat earlier-blooming)A. schubertii

A. christo on the right, being dwarfed in more ways than one by the (somewhat earlier-blooming) A. schubertii

Don’t worry about cutting garlic scapes, btw; removing them doesn’t make any difference  one way or the other. Just be sure to leave a few to make topsets for spring planting, about which more shortly.

For now a scape storage tip: they last more or less forever if you ignore the picture above and keep them in a very shallow layer of water, with only the stem bases immersed. If you put them in the usual full vase, the stems rot after a fairly short time.

I buy most of my bulbs in bulk because it costs less and concentrates the mind. As a general rule it’s nicer to have lots of one thing than lots of little dits and bits, no matter how colorful they may be.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is my source for multiples of exotica, otherwise I tend to go to Van Engelen.

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  • Rebecca Mitchell Said,

    Can’t get enough of those Aliums! I agree on your sources, but I’m always trolling for more. In the Old House Gardens catalog I just spotted Allium senescens montanum. Don’t you think that most Alliums need to be grow-thru plants since their foliage fades before the flowers? Do you have favorite companion plants for this? Last month in my garden I enjoyed the silvery look of ‘Mount Everest’ growing through artemesia (a dangerously spreading one which was at my old house and I don’t have the heart to banish it; as a result I am a slave to beating it into slight submission)

  • Lynn Said,

    My Allium bulgaricum is sad (and who can blame it!) because I put a bench on top of it – it still pokes out and blooms though. When should I transplant it to a happier locale? Any suggestions for a good neighbor for it? Many changes are happening in the garden.

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Rebecca,

    Glad to welcome a fellow allium enthusiast. Old house does have the nice senecens montanum, but if you’re into the more costly rarities be sure to check out Odyssey bulbs. A ruinous catalog, walletwise, I try never to go.

    As for the grow-through, yup, you’re right – it’s the one downside and alas it’s huge. Like the ratty daffodil foliage problem, but worse, since the ugly leaves are the frame for the flowers unless steps are taken. The artemesia sounds pretty, and hunky enough to hide the leaves. My favorites are astilbes, hardy geranium and spring-blooming anemonies.

    Hostas are the classic, but you have to be careful with spacing or the hostas will shade the allium foliage before it dies and the alliums won’t be able to keep coming back.

    Lynn – wow! – talk about proving how tough the bulgaricums can be…
    If possible, wait till the clump goes dormant before moving it. The neighbors I mentioned to Rebecca are all possibilities, and I’ve had good luck with silver sage, too.

    The bulgaricums are especially difficult to site because the clumps ( with luck!) tend to spread, so they have to have enough room in the sun. Consider annuals as a way of coping with the problem; you can grow them in a holding bed and then pop them in for leaf-hiding purposes when the time comes.

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