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Alliums will light up late spring garden with a majestic display of glorious exploding flowerheads

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Alliums are an important part of our late spring display. They are spectacular plants, from the smallest flower of chives to the wild explosion of Allium schubertii, of which later.

The first to appear is A. hollandicum (also known as A. aflatunense). It is about 90cm (3ft) tall, with lilac flowers edged with a silver halo.

There is also a white form. As the flowers emerge, the color shows through the fine sheath tissue and they resemble flat-topped thistles, but then open into a cylinder.

The leaves, which fold halfway and droop idiosyncratically, tend to start dying off at the tips before the plant comes into flower. It’s not due to any disease or problem – it’s just a common characteristic of early alliums that the foliage dies before the flowers fully open.

Monty Don says alliums are an important part of the late spring display.  A UK-based gardening expert describes A. hollandicum as a purple sensation, which is followed by A. cristophii (pictured)

Monty Don says alliums are an important part of the late spring display. A UK-based gardening expert describes A. hollandicum as a purple sensation, which is followed by A. cristophii (pictured)

A. hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ – which is both purple and sensational – has lollipop globes made up of dozens of individual florets, and they create an open shell of flowers that not only look spectacular and elegant, but are also excellent for wildlife.

The first appear here towards the end of April, and by the middle of May they are in their splendor. ‘Purple Sensation’ has a richness of color which makes it an ideal leaf for the intense greens and yellows of May and June.

As plants, they require nothing more from the gardener than planting, and the best time to do this is in the fall – although I’ve had success planting the bulbs as late as February.

A. cristophii follows in mid-May, with its huge, exploding flower balls. They work well with softer spot colors than those used with ‘Purple Sensation’, which is why we grow them alongside old roses, sweet peas, geraniums and other pale, pastel colors.

MONTY’S WORK OF THE WEEK

For those in the southern half of the country, now is the time to move or divide the deciduous grasses; those north of Manchester should wait around a week. If you are dividing a large clump, do not divide it into several small pieces as they will slowly grow back.

Cut it in half before replanting at the same level as before and water well. Water weekly until it grows strongly.

Some grasses are free-sowing and form tight clumps – just lift and reposition them with more room around them.

Monty says now is the time to move or divide the deciduous grasses (pictured)

Monty says now is the time to move or divide the deciduous grasses (pictured)

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As the flowers fade, the dramatic flower heads become drier and hold their shape for months, although colorless. We often harvest them in this mummified state to put them in a vase, where they last a long time.

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Like ‘Purple Sensation’, the seeds of A. cristophii are crazy and need to be thinned out or they can crowd a border.

And so back to A. schubertii. This ornamental onion takes the explosive flower head to another level of artistic extreme.

From a very short stem, the flower shoots up into a ball the size of a melon made up of dozens of florets, each on a stem of different length.

It can get lost in the back of a curb, so place it near the front. It dries easily and will stay in shape to be amazed for months.

Meanwhile, A. giganteum is a colossal pestle of a flower, growing 2m (6ft) tall in our rich clay loam. It’s almost like those holly bushes or bushes that are cut into topiary pom poms, and one year we walked them all the way up the long walk.

However, huge bulbs are expensive and require the best possible drainage, as I learned the hard way.

They will rot very quickly in a wet winter, and we have lost everything. Generally, this applies to all alliums, which prefer a sunny, well-drained site.

A little later – and the last of the alliums here – is A. sphaerocephalon. It is much smaller than all the previous ones and its natural habitat is a meadow.

In late July and August, it forms a magnificent tapestry of conical flower heads of mauve and ruby ​​pink. Its only weakness is that on our heavy soil it has a tendency to crumble, but bounded by a box hedge it will fall over it rather than fall over it.

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YOUR GARDEN: CHICORY

The first is radicchio and the two varieties Monty prefers are 'Rossa di Treviso' (pictured) and 'Rossa di Verona'

The first is radicchio and the two varieties Monty prefers are ‘Rossa di Treviso’ (pictured) and ‘Rossa di Verona’

Chicory will transform a salad by adding a deliciously bitter tone to an otherwise bland leafy mixture. I have grown many types of chicory, but there are two that I keep coming back to.

The first is radicchio and the two varieties I like the most are ‘Rossa di Treviso’ and ‘Rossa di Verona’. Sow in May or early June, thinning to 23cm (9in) spacing – they need plenty of room.

Keep them weeded and let the loose green leaves grow. In the fall, these will begin to sag and will need to be removed from the outdoors.

Also remove the green leaves falling on the heart. I cover them with a cloche in the damp winter as they hate damp air.

Cut the hearts when they’re bigger than a tennis ball and they’ll regrow in the spring.

The second chicory I grow is endive, especially ‘Cornet de Bordeaux’ and ‘Frisée de Ruffec’. If they are too bitter for you, gently tie their leaves with twine for a few weeks before cutting them – this restricts sunlight to the inner leaves, resulting in a sweeter taste.

Unlike radicchio, they tend to thrive in hot weather, so sow fresh supplies every few weeks.

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