This Flower Can Work Wonders…

Travel writer Pat Richardson shares the pleasure of her own little corner of heaven to come home to

Heaven knows why, until just last year, I never once thought to plant alliums – because when the 10 bulbs each of five varieties I put in came up, they absolutely bowled me over.

Leader of the pack is Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation – and was ever a plant better named? An improbable combination of boldness and delicacy, their massive globes are made up of dozens of minute, densely packed, intensely coloured star-shaped flowerheads, which open like fabulous floral fireworks, soaring on stems a full metre high.

Half that height and pinkish purple, Allium schuberti blooms in a starburst, due to the varying lengths of stalk on which its tiny flowerheads are held. Allium caeruleum is the same height, with tightly balled flowerheads in a heavenly shade of blue that’s perfect for summer gardens.

Allium sphaerocephalon is delightfully different, with egg-shaped flowerheads in a jewel-bright shade of ruby-tinged amethyst. Finally, because I love the grace and calm that white flowers confer on a garden, there’s Allium nigrum. Its snowy flowerheads – each with a tiny green ‘bead’ at its heart – don’t form tidy balls but more flattish clusters that soar above my borders like a soft bank of tiny clouds.

I’ll be adding more varieties this year – and it’s not just their stunning good looks that have won me over. Alliums are wonderfully undemanding: with slender stems and strap-like leaves that obligingly die back just as the flowers appear, they take up very little space and can easily be dropped into an already-planted area in need of some added interest. Use them singly or in twos or threes as punctuation, for a bright pop of colour, for textural contrast and to vary height. Plant them in ranks to give a border a backdrop, lead the eye to another part of the garden, edge a path, disguise a bare patch or blunt an eyesore. Put some in pots – always an odd number – to fill in nothing-going-on-here areas.

Alliums pay their way as cut flowers, too – and less is more. A single stem in a slender vase looks simply sensational; dress your dinner table with one per guest; use three to add froth to a mixed bouquet.

What’s not to like? Allium is Latin for garlic, so they are pungent rather than fragrant; however, once you’ve seen how these gloriously versatile flowers can enhance your garden, you won’t hold that against them.

Pat Richardson has many years experience as a travel writer including 16 years as Travel Editor on Best Magazine. She has since turned freelance and writes mainly for the Daily Telegraph’s Escorted Travel and Cruise Supplements. As well as tending her own delightful Kew garden, she runs, a writing and editing service and consultancy, and, a website showcasing properties with a past.