Arthur's Blog: Alliums of May

24th May 2016

Arthur's Blog: Alliums of May

People are often surprised to be told that the allium is, in fact, an onion! The game is easily given away, however, if you accidently dig a bulb up from damp earth or slice one in half with a spade – easily done, you’ll soon smell a strong odour more familiar to the frying pan than the flower border. While the tulip gets all the major attention in the autumn bulb catalogues and garden centre displays, the allium proves its worth in several ways, most notably in its perennial habit and its flowering time, filling the lull of the dreaded May time gap. Alliums are also a favourite bloom of the bumble bee.

The alliums begin to bloom most years with the late flowering tulips such as the silky, princess ball- gown-like ‘Blue Parrot’. If your garden is to be filled with tulips, then it’s a good idea to place 1 allium bulb for every 5 tulip bulbs when planting them in the autumn, so that you don’t just have a seemingly decaying mass of gone over tulips – an especially important factor to give consideration to when planting a small garden.

To do well, alliums require a soil of good drainage like most bulbs, and they do like sun too. If your soil is heavy with a large amount of clay, add handfuls of sharp grit mixed with spent compost to their planting hole so that they don’t become soggy and rot during the winter.

The strappy, smooth, leaves of alliums will appear early in the year. They become a bit shabby by the time the flowering stems have risen up from their centres but at this stage you can cut the leaves off without harming next year’s display. Given the mentioned conditions, alliums will last in the garden for decades, with the display getting better each year, while the blowsiest and most luscious of tulips will do well to come back with a decent flower in their third season. You can cut alliums for the vase inside, but their water must have a teaspoon of bleach added to prevent the stems sap fowling the water within hours.

I am very thankful for the alliums at the factory this spring, having picked up the flower baton as soon as the tulips began to shed their petals. The variety we have the most of is the old favourite ‘Purple Sensation’.

The days are getting warmer but the nights are still quite nippy here, so the summer bedding has yet to begin its journey down from the factory’s rooftop greenhouses to the courtyard beds and planters. Hopefully next week, planting can commence with earnest – although the wallflowers look far too good currently to be dug up!

The crested ducklings are eating non- stop and growing at full pelt. They are being allowed total liberty of the garden, as ducks are not as destructive to the plants as the bantam hens. Each day, they get to swim in a beautiful, old tin bath that I have brought here from my mother’s garden in Nottingham. They have yet to be given any names as I am yet to know for sure if they are ducks or drakes!

With best wishes,
Arthur Parkinson

24th May 2016