Saturday, September 17, 2016


Garlic chives blooming in fall.

Right now there isn't a whole lot blooming in my small herb garden, but the garlic chives are making up for any lack of blooms and are flowering handsomely.

Bees seem to love the little white stars. There always seems to be at least one on the flowers in the company of a few little black ants. The long tapered leaves of garlic chives are broader than regular chives and the blooms are much larger. Their taste is oniony with a hint of garlic.

This year I switched from common chives to 'Profusion' chives (which I got from Richters, a Canadian nursery and mail-order company that specializes in herbs). The mauve flowers are sterile and do not set seed. In the past, I've had to cut my chives back hard after they flower to rejuvenate the foliage and to prevent them from seeding everywhere. Profusion Chives seem to stay small and compact throughout the growing season. Simply remove the faded flowers and you're good to go.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens. 
They weren't marked, but I think these are Allium 'Giganteum'.

As well as these edible members of the onion family, there are ornamental alliums as well. This June I was lucky enough to visit the Toronto Botanical Gardens when the alliums were in flower.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

Allium christophii 

Allium christophii up close and personal.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

I was particularly struck by the fact that the alliums had been grouped into small clusters. The effect was soft and cloud-like. 

Private garden Mississauga, Ontario

Of course, you don't need a large garden to group your allium bulbs. I thought they looked wonderful in this much smaller garden that I visited last May (visit this garden here).

Myself, I've always had a tendency to dot them around the garden with other flowering bulbs just as you see here:

Private garden, Toronto Ontario

Old unknown variety

I've primarily shown the tall round balls, that one usually associates with ornamental onions, but there are many colors, shapes and sizes available. For instance, there are shorter, bushier alliums as well (see above).

Nodding Wild Onion, Allium cernuum

The colors range from white, pink, yellow, mauve, purple and burgundy. As well as the rounded flowers typically associated with the tall ornamentals, there are more oval-shaped blooms and floral fireworks of the kind you see here.

Joe's Garden, Brampton, Ontario

When flowers are finished, Alliums turn into magic wands. The decorative seed heads add a nice architectural element to any flower bed.

Millenium seedheads

You do have to keep a watchful eye on the magic hidden in those wands. Alliums can be prolific self-seeders!

Alliums beginning to open in a Toronto, Ontario garden

If you haven't done so already, fall is the time of year to order and plant allium bulbs. With all the inspiration I found this summer, I'd like to take better advantage of the wide range of colors, shapes and sizes these members of the onion family offer. So I called in the advice of an expert.

Pam Dangelmaier is co-owner and manager of Botanus, a mail-order bulb and plant company located in Langley, British Columbia. It's hard to choose from the nice variety of allium bulbs Botanus has on offer in this fall's catalogue. I had to begin my questions by asking Pam if she has a personal favourite.

"I love Allium sphaerocephalon," Pam says, "Not only is the deep burgundy color enticing, but it is also a literal 'bee-magnet'. As a beekeeper, I am always looking for easy to grow plants that the bees love and this one ticks all the boxes."

Allium 'Millenium' blooms in mid to late summer. Look for this allium at your favourite nursery.

Alliums that flower in late spring pick up where tulips leave off and bridge the gap nicely between spring bulbs and early summer perennials, but there are some alliums that bloom in the summer as well. 

I asked Pam for some advice as to how best to use alliums throughout the full gardening season. Here's her suggestion:

"Allium 'Ivory Queen' is a nice dwarf variety that blooms in early summer. Follow these up with a gorgeous display of Allium bulgaricum and Allium giganteum. Allium 'Millenium' produces large chive-like blooms in mid to late summer that make great additions to cut flower bouquets. All are easy to grow and maintain and look fantastic in any garden (or container)."

Allium 'Ivory Queen' (left) has creamy white globes on stems that are about 4" tall making it a great option for underplanting taller varieties. Bloom time: Mid-spring. Full sun/partshade. Planting depth: 10 cm (4 inches), Height: 10 cm (4 inches), Spacing: 10 cm (4 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, fragrant, makes a good cut flower, drought tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 5-9.

Allium 'Giganteum' (right) has mauve-purple flowers is one of the tallest alliums available. It requires full sun and well-drained soil. Bloom time: Late spring.  Planting depth: 20 cm (8 inches), Height: 100 cm (40 inches), Spacing: 30 cm (12 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, fragrant, makes a good cut flower, drought tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 6-9.

Allium bulgaricum

Allium bulgaricum has fragrant pink bell-shaped flowers that hang in a downward curving umbel. Bloom time: Late spring. Planting depth: 10 cm (4 inches), Height: 90 cm (36 inches), Spacing: 10 cm (4 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, good cut flower, drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones:6-9.

Allium 'Millenium' has compact, upright foliage and mauve flowers. Bloom time: Mid to late summer. Full sun. Look for this allium next spring at your favourite nursery. Height: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches), Spacing: 25 cm (10 inches). Other attributes: Attractive to bees and butterflies, drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 5-9.

Alliums planted in among some hostas.

As well as being great self-seeders, tall ornamental Alliums do have one other drawback: their foliage can be somewhat untidy looking especially as they begin to go dormant. I asked Pam if she had any suggestions for hiding this less than appealing attribute:

"It's true, the foliage is usually not very attractive and actually begins to yellow and fade before the flower heads bloom. A great 'trick' is to plant them in amongst low growing perennials and ground covers such as hostas, grasses and hardy geraniums."

A white allium in my garden.

Once you've got your alliums selected, there is only one more issue: where to plant them and with what?

The where is easy: alliums like full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Allium 'Purple Sensation' and Euphorbia polychroma in my garden.

The other partners are Euphorbia 'First Blush' (variegated in the middle foreground) with Euphorbia 'Bonfire' which is to the middle left.

One plant combination I have in my own garden is to mix Allium 'Purple Sensation' with a trio of Euphorbias. The three Euphorbias are nestled together at a corner I pass frequently.

Purple alliums mixed with pink Columbine is another pretty combination.

Eryngium (Sea Holly)

I asked Pam if she had any suggestions for plant combinations as well:

"One combination I love is Allium sphaerocephalon with Eryngium (Sea Holly). The burgundy and the blue look awesome together! I also think taller growing alliums such as 'Purple Sensation' and 'Mount Everest' pair nicely with hostas and perennial grasses."

Many thanks to Pam for taking a moment to answer all my questions at a very busy time of year. I hope you have found some inspiration to start your fall bulb planting!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. 
I benefit in no way from any purchase you might make from Botanus.

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  1. I just wanted to say.. I so enjoy your newsletter!! I am always happy to see your email in my inbox. And to boot I have learned so much. Your pictures are stunning, just gorgeous. Keep up the great job! If I may ask, what camera do you use to take your lovely pictures?

    1. Thanks Stacey! It is always nice to have such encouragement! I use a Nikon D500 with a 18-105 mm lens.

  2. Beautiful photos and interesting post on Alliums. I have already quite a few Alliums in my garden, mainly flowering in spring and early summer. After watching your gorgeous photos I definitely are going to order more of them.

    1. Glad you found inspiration in the post Janneke. When you start looking at the Allium family, it is amazing to see how many pretty options there are.

  3. My parents always had Alliums in their garden so I read this article with great interest and happy memories ...

    Wonderful photo's again Jennifer

    All the best Jan

  4. The flowers are sooo pretty ♥

  5. Great timing, Jennifer--I want to get my bulb order in this week, and I had forgotten about more alliums. The tall ones are gorgeous, but I like some of the smaller varieties as well. I think some of mine are Allium roseum, which bloom right after most of the tulips and add a nice touch of color and texture as the tulips fade.

  6. Thank goodness for the alliums this year - my garden has been an utter calamity. Trying to get out for several hours every day to put things right. Great to see your photos and hear the suggestions of a pro for combinations. The collection at the TBG is just so lush and marvellous.

  7. Hello Jennifer, for me, alliums is a must-have in any garden and I used to have many in my previous garden. It will take a few years to get established a similar collection here I live now but I started last year with a mix of different coloured gigantum alliums and will plant some every year. Thanks for the beautiful photos and all the useful info – great stuff as always!

  8. Hello Jennifer girl !
    I have become an allium fan just over the last couple of years .. it started with the Schubertii which amazed me with form and fragrance ... then it was head over heels planting them (a variety) here and there ... I have more coming in the Fall called Miami they have intrigued me so I am hoping for a pleasant come late Spring.
    This is a great post especially the hint about planting them with coverage from other plants to hide the foliage when it gets ugly .. I have hosta I can do that with.
    Great information and pictures as always !
    Joy : )

  9. Gorgeous post! I love alliums, though most do not grow well here. Garlic chives do thrive, and you remind me I must get out and cut off their flower heads before they release all those seeds!


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