Monday, December 21, 2009

Allium Allegiance

Onion, leek, chive, and garlic are all important members of the edible allium family characterized by their pungent odor and taste.  While being useful additions to most vegetable and herb gardens, many allium are used in the ornamental garden.  The ornamental part of the clever allium grows from a bulb, (the part we eat, think of the onion) is actually a modified stem and underground food storage device.  Easy to plant, often as a bulb to plant in the autumn, and care for, ornamental onion doesn't have many soil requirements, only that it is well drained.  A perfect plant for the water-conscious gardener (as all gardeners should be), place in a dry, sunny, and hot location.  Many varieties, including the Allium glaucum scenescence (pictured below), work well in difficult areas around pavement where temperatures can soar, and in gravelly low fertility soil.  No need to fertilize this tough plant. 

The large pom-pom like alliums are very dramatic in the garden.  Blooming later than many other bulbs, but before many perennials, allium fill a niche for the ever-blooming perennial border. 

The drumstick allium (allium sphaerocephalon), like all alliums, is popular with butterflies and other pollinators.  A. sphaerocephalon will naturalize nicely in the back of the border.

Planted en masse as above, ornamental onions
provide a stunning display, but can also be used
more conservatively to add texture, contrast       and architecture to the border.        


I love the little Allium glaucum senescence with  it's lavender colored pom poms and silvery foliage.
This plant makes a great low hedge in a sunny dry location. Try in combination with other perennials and annuals. Winter interest?  Covered.  The dried seed heads stand up well in snow and rain and provide bird forage.

Some of the native alliums will naturalize and get a bit out of control in the garden.  Reserve for areas where this is okay, as to not frustrate the gardener.    

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Indian Pipe

This extremely cool plant was found at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Monotropa uniflora, also known as the Ghost Plant, Indian Pipe, or Corpse Plant is a herbaceous perennial plant, native to temperate regions of Asia, North America and northern South America. It is quite rare, does not contain chlorophyll, therefore does not photosynthesize.  It obtains it's nutrients from a relationship with mycorrhizal fungus which forms a network with tree roots.  It grows in very dark environments, such as in the understory of dense trees and forests where the soil is not disturbed.  Don't try to transplant, since it has such a complex relationship with mycorrhizal fungus, it is very difficult to propagate.