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Love those Late Alliums

My giant allium has disappeared. A volunteer, it showed up in 2001; who knows where from. Five-inch globes of little pinky-purple stars, atop four-foot stalks: a welcome sight in July. But this year it's totally gone — no sick leaves, nothing. After some study, I think it may have been A. giganteum, which is not supposed to be hardy north of zone 6. I've tried to grow other plants rated zone 6, and they often do well for a few years, then vanish, just like this.

I could get a hardier huge allium: for example A. aflatunense, which has similar flowers. But they bloom in May. Most of New England blooms in May and June. I don't need more flowers then.

In August, Garlic Chives gives me two-inch white half-spheres, 30 inches tall, above narrow, drooping 12-inch blades. And Curly Chives puts up 3/4 inch pink half-spheres on foot-tall stems — but even before, draws the eye: blue-gray, bluntly rounded, 7-inch strap-shaped leaves turn on the axis of the leaf as they grow, and curl around the center of the plant — producing a rhythmic, undulating effect.

Allium thunbergii bears 12-inch tall pink spheres from September to October — or later. I bought one small pot and pulled the clump apart, planting each pip separately along a 10-foot bed; two years later I have eight clumps as big as the original. Thin, hollow leaves show a triangular cross-section. ('Ozawa' has the best bloom.)

My nodding onions have been the most fun. Suddenly in 2003 I had three plants I'd never seen before. In 2000, I'd tried to grow some seed from the New England Wild Flower Society. The seedlings all failed; I assume I dumped the trays on the compost pile. Did some ungerminated seeds travel in compost to the bed where they grew in '03? Or was I just the beneficiary of Mother's usual seed dispersal methods? (Though I've not seen them around here, they are native.)

In July, the buds hang down, "nodding" at the end of willowy flower stems. As the pink or white florets open, the stars that emerge remind me of fireworks on the falling side of their trail in the air. Finally by September the stems straighten and the flowers are balls, resulting in the common allium "drumstick" look. If you hadn't watched them develop, you'd never know the reason for their name.

Photos by C.H. Clark - two stages in the flower's opening

Text and photos © Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 2 September 2005

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