In my last post, I barely touched on the trove of bulbs available to us, among them hyacinths.
Mentioning hyacinths leads me to share with you a special hyacinth that I am using. First, I want you to understand that one of my personal prejudices has been a dislike of hyacinths. To me, they were large blobs with a scent that is overwhelming. After “only” forty years, I have revised that opinion. Nevertheless, after reading about the blue cultivar Hyacinthus multiflora ‘Borah’ and the pink one, Hyacinthus multiflora ‘Festival Pink’, I decided to give them a try and discovered that I love their more informal look of loosely arranged florets on multiple stems. These hyacinths are heirloom bulbs that are still quite fragrant, but I don’t find the scent as offensive. Unfortunately,they have not naturalized as I had hoped.
I first saw Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) in a woodland setting with late Narcissus and didn’t know what they were, but I was determined to find out. Then I saw them again in a Charleston cemetery and discovered their identity. Years ago, I planted them in my own garden in a partially shaded, slightly moist spot, conditions that most bulbs will not tolerate. Their pendulous white bells on twelve- to eighteen-inch stems used to bloom from early May well into June with their foliage remaining green until the end of summer. For the past few years, they have started blooming in early April and on into May. After a few years, I interplanted Tricyrtis ‘Tojen’ (Tojen Toad Lily) among them. Its height (three feet) and large leaves allow it to compete and flourish with the Leucojum instead of being smothered by the foliage.
Most of us focus on springblooming bulbs, but some of the summer blooming bulbs are worth our attention, especially Allium. My favorite is the late June/early July blooming Allium sphaerocephalum (Drumstick Allium). Its unusual shape and maroon color add excitement to my pastel border. I’ve planted it behind several Coreopsis verticillata cultivars that bloom nonstop until frost. Another Allium I can’t live without is Allium giganteum for its shock value. Everyone, regardless of age, is amazed at its height and size – four- to five-inch spheres on four-foot stalks! I’ve planted them next to the late blooming (June) Dwarf Lilac, Syringa meyeri, which is a paler purple and only a little bit taller than the Allium. I’ve also planted them in a client’s garden for the contrast value — the tall purple balls behind a bright yellow Potentilla fruticosa.
Everyone exclaims over Giant Allium (Allium giganteum) and they are spectacular but they have one big problem. The foliage begins to look like it’s dying at least two weeks before the bulbs bloom. I dealt with this liability by interplanting it with Anemone hybrida (Japanese Anemone) which produces lots of foliage by May and June but doesn’t bloom until early fall. Therefore, the foliage of the Anemone hides that of the Allium while the large heads of the Allium bob above the Anemone foliage and make an otherwise very green space a colorful space.
Too few designers make use of the smaller Allium species of which there many. I have planted Allium caeruleum (blue, usually 12” high) in Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox) to extend color in that space since the Phlox blooms in April and early May but the Allium doesn’t bloom until the middle of May. Allium unifolium (also known as A.roseum), has flatter heads than the previous Allium, is pink and 12” high. This one I planted in Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo Karmina’. The Geranium is semi-evergreen and has bright pink flowers that bloom in May while Allium unifolium follows with its soft pink flowers in early June.
Allium atropurpureum, a maroon June bloomer, has flower heads that are taller at two feet and I plant them between perennials such as Geranium psilostemon that shows off its magenta flowers at the same time and Kniphofia (Poker Plant) that will not make its splash until midsummer. Another combination with which I have been very happy is Allium christophii planted between Astrantia (Masterwort). This short but large balled Allium has pale lavender flowers that appear in late May and early June while the Astrantia does not bloom until mid to late June. The structure of this Allium is quite appealing even after the petals have dropped and I often leave them for quite a long time. Last summer, in a garden I visited, the owner had painted the deadheads bright colors that would obviously add color to her garden for a very long time.
How many of these bulbs are you using?