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Growing alliums: best varieties
Looking at the bulb catalogue that is sitting on my desk as I write, I see that there are no fewer than one hundred and sixty one varieties of allium.
These vary from the tall to the short, the deep purple to pale pink. Some have heads the size of muffled hens while others are as small and delicate as the eyelashes of newborn babies. Some flower in May and others in July. Which one should you choose? How do we know which are the best, most reliable plants? It can get a bit confusing, especially when confronted with exotic names like Allium cyathophorum var. farreri or Allium tschimganicum.
Obviously the best way to choose your alliums is to hang on to the golden words written on the pages of Gardeners’ World Magazine (never does any harm to oil up to the boss occasionally) but there is a close second.
You may well have seen the words AGM on plant labels or in catalogues. This does not mean Annual General Meeting but instead refers to the Award of Garden Merit. This is the ultimate recommendation, the sine qua non for any plant. The award was first introduced in 1922 and it means that this particular variety has been exhaustively tested by the Royal Horticultural Society. It has been grown in various conditions under the supervision of an expert committee of volunteers who regularly inspect and discuss the various pros and cons of each plant. Visit Wisley to see the trial grounds for yourself.
So, as a simple rule of thumb, if you find yourself confused and discombobulated by too much choice then go for the one with the AGM sticker. But back to my confusing list of alliums, I notice that there are fifteen AGM plants. To make your job of choosing them even simpler, here are my top five:
Allium caeruleum: a late-flowering, small-headed blue variety. Height 0.6m, flowers May/June.
Allium ‘Globemaster’: a huge and spectacular mauvey number, with tight packed petals. Height 0.8m, flowers May/June.
Allium hollandicum: probably the most popular variety. Dark purple, perky tennis ball sized flowerheads. Height 1m, flowers June/July.
Allium moly ‘Jeannine’: double stemmed with yellow flowers. Height 0.5m, flowers May/June.
Allium unifolium: a pink flowered variety, shortish (25cm) but good for cutting. Height 0.5m, flowers May/June.
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