Monday, June 24, 2013

Onions for crying out loud!

Allium caeruleum Heacock form
 Unless your name happens to be Mark McDonough, alliums are a bit of a hard sell. Like sedums, violets (and Gaul for that matter), onions can be divided into three parts: the quietly functional ones (A. cepa, or A. schonoprassum for instance--which we eat). Then there are the infinitely desirable rosulate violets, or fussy desert onions which are slow or challenging in the extreme--and finally there are the onions that seek to conquer every square inch of your garden--the ones to avoid at all cost...and then there is Allium caeruleum, which is sold by Dutch nurseries, and disappoints. But THIS Allium caeruleum is a beat of a different quality altogether: I was given bulbs of this 30 some years ago by Mary Ann Heacock...who obtained them from a correspondent in Southeastern Europe. They are almost twice the size of typical caeruleum, and possess much more substance. Alas, they are not available commercially, although several Colorado nurseries have been growing them. Because alliums are regarded as bulbs, however, these are essentially doomed in commerce--because they are not being grown commercially in Holland.

Allium caeruleum Heacock form at DBG Rock Alpine Garden
Above you can see the spot where they were first planted some 30 years ago: the display slows down after a decade or so but every time we renovate this bed, the alliums come back with a vengeance. You can get them to bloom heavily, we have found, but fertilizing and growing them like a perennial results in a good show year after year...they have been under observation by a certain Plant Introduction whose initials are "P.S."--but the committees thus far don't seem to be too impressed, and I'm afraid they fall through the cracks...

Allium caeruleum Heacock form
Maybe they will be hampered by the obvious common name, if you know what I mean...

Allium caeruleum Heacock form in Plant Select garden
There are in enough local gardens they are not apt to disappear...I took the picture above just a day or two ago....

Allium altaicum
Another failure of the trials was this wonderful swollen leafed allium from Central Asia--which didn't attract quite the appeal necessary to get it into the program. I find that it attracts a great deal of curiosity and hope that we reconsider one day. I grow a few dozen of them in a wide spectrum of soils and exposure: they grow and look awesome everywhere...what more does one need?

I suppose I could go for a few more rosulate violets!


  1. Nice Alliums Panayoti. When you are in Scotland say hello to Ian for me. Thank him for being so helpful with the process for joining the SRGC forum.


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  3. PK, let me see if I understand what you’re saying here; Alliums can be divided into 3 categories, the “quietly functional” (utilitarian edible types such as A. schoenoprasum, chives), desirable but ungrowable desert onions, and those that seek to conquer gardens; simply put: vegetables, xerophytes, and invasives. For crying out loud, there’s a huge amount of territory in the middle that’s been missed or dismissed, have you not taken notice of some 30+ years of my investigating and profiling this fascinating genus, sigh.

    Perhaps just a head-turning prologue to offer counterpoint to the subject, the extra fine manifestation of Allium caeruleum now bearing the qualifier “Heacock Form”. Regrettably my plants did not flower this year, as with all A. caeruleum I’ve grown, they prefer to dwindle through the years; maybe fertilization is the essential part missing from my gardening regime.

    As to Allium altaicum, I can understand why it would not be selected for a featured plant program, it’s an unconventional if not amusing beastie, can be rather coarse and untidy. Allied species Allium pskemense is a better plant, with similar inflated leaves but more refined, of a steely blue shade, firm to the touch and standing upright, and clean white flowers in a proud head. However, I’m not sure which of your three onion categories it should be ascribed. ;-)

    Based on the opening line on this blog, I trust my gardening work with posh Epimedium and chic woodland Iris, redeems for the reader my choice in plants beyond that of riffraff.

    Yours truly,

    Mark McDonough
    (Reposted to add a profile pic)

  4. AHA! Gotcha, Mark! I suppose I did leave out a few fairly important categories, such as the indispensable border onions (the giganteum hybrids and aflatuenense and christophii groups) without which our June borders would be dull indeed...and I left out the dozens of highly functional miniatures that jazz up rock gardens from spring to fall (from the ostrowskianum/moly classics to the endless variations on cyaneum, cyathophorum, and much much more)...and I suspect one could make up another few categories...

    The last thing in the world I would dream of is to cast Nasturtiums as your Allium work, which I admire...but you musn't get to worked up about some very general remarks made in part to see if you were reading! And I can see that indeed you do read my poor little profferings! I apologize to you and the goddess of Allium...

    1. I must work on imbuing more obvious satire in my posts, it's what I was striving for, but apparently failed to achieve ;-). If the truth be told, my preoccupation with the genus Allium is waning; I'm moving on to other attractions.


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