Sunday, May 23, 2010

A stunning native onion

Onions are problem children in the garden. Either they become nearly ineradicable pests, or else they sulk like problem children, needing something (more attention? a good drubbing? a fresh start elsewhere?). And of course, most of the ornamental onions sold by Dutch bulb firms are Eurasian. Denver Botanic Gardens ought to be renamed Christoph Botanic Gardens this time of year: Allium christophii has naturalized so enthusiastically in so many gardens there that it's verging on becoming a cliche--a majestic, magnificent and enviable cliche to be sure.

Allium aflatuenense appears to be gradually making similar inroads in my own garden: each year a new colony pops up here or there, and the older colonies get thicker. Their luminous, deep purple orbs are so stunning, who cares?

And then there are the rabble of Western American onions. They are really fabulous: dozens of species, some growing only in steppe, others in desert, others at moderate elevations and some of the most stunning above treeline. Most are graceful, colorful and worthy of the garden. Few are found in gardens. Most are tiny or at least compact, and I one day would like to grow many of them. They are not hard from seed and Ron Ratko and Alan Bradshaw both offer lots of them? So what's the schtick? Too little time, one never seems to get around to it...but somehow I have managed to obtain several clumps of Allium platycaule. They have prospered everywhere I planted them, and one clump must have had fifty flowers. The color is slightly different on each clump--from bright rose pink to lilac pink. And the foliage is lovely in all forms, flat and wavy. And it is completely drought tolerant (my biggest clump is in an unirrigated part of the garden). It has become my current favorite among the onions. And that's saying a lot!

I suppose I shall have to find out more about it now...since all I know is that it's a great garden plant and very pretty...

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