Bloomin’ Onions And Sweet Quamash!

It is already beginning to feel like fall. While the cooler temperatures seem a tad premature, the gardener is already in the season to come. The asters in my garden are popping and the bees seem very happy as they congregate all over the flowers. This year, I remembered to pinch back the asters in July. Their height right now is much more pleasing and less likely to flop over.

The dusky pink flower heads of sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ appear to echo the eupatoriums that blazed all summer long. Although this was not deliberately planned, I like the continuity of color and shape. It has taught me to think along those lines with other plant choices for the various seasons.

The hydrangea are going strong as are the Russian sage and Solidago. In the potager, we continue to harvest herbs, swiss chard and kale. Apples, pears and figs are rounding off meals very satisfactorily. So in the midst of all this bounty, its easy to disregard the signs of autumn. But, we know better don’t we?!

I’m already anticipating the upcoming chores and sourcing plants to add to the boundary of the meadow. Under consideration is a change of plantings in the checkerboard garden but cost might put a damper on that plan. This past weekend, we cleaned and installed each pane of glass in the greenhouse that now stands on a new foundation. My hands have numerous minute cuts from handling all that glass. War wounds to be proud of. When frost threatens, and it will, the tender perennials shall be safely ensconced in the greenhouse.

All the big tasks of cutting back, cleaning up and putting away are best done before the Big Bulb Planting. I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of my greed driven order of bulbs in early to mid-October.
If you haven’t placed an order or hadn’t really thought about bulbs, consider yourself duly admonished. Imagine that I have looked at you with a mix of shock and derision. And along with, I have verbally expressed matching sentiments. Now, get yourself to a local nursery or go on-line and shop for bulbs.

I personally cannot envision a spring without bulbs. They influence a garden with so much expression and aplomb that it is inconceivable to go without. Given that more is better when planting bulbs, I’m aware that the price of bulbs can scare some timid minds and the faint of heart. Which is exactly why it helps to order in advance from bulb houses. Their prices are best. By the time one purchases at a nursery, the cost has gone up, choices are limited to what is most popular and it feels really prohibitive to buy in quantity. Like a Christmas account, it also helps to put a little bit away each month. I kid you not ā€“ I’m that serious about planting bulbs.

However, I do understand that for whatever reasons, one must limit oneself. If you must narrow your selections, go for alliums and camassias. There is plenty going on in early spring. Simply seeing new growth after a long, hard winter is joyous. But later in the season, it is particular nice to see more deliberate drama. Enter the alliums. There is enough of a selection of these members of the onion family to really put in the ‘wow’ factor to any flower bed. Tall, mid-height, short. Big, impressive, ball or dome shaped umbels to smaller, twee ones. Tightly clustered or loose and airy. In hues of pink, blue, mauve, white and the occasional yellow. Alliums are just stunning. Like exploding fireworks.

Camassias are not quite as dramatic but their poker shapes in shades of blue and creamy white punctuate the flower beds rather stylishly. They naturalize easily too.

Both, alliums and camassias are deer resistant. They work well together, enhance indoor flower arrangements and they are at home in formal gardens as well as more naturalistic planting schemes. I have them in my front perennial beds and also in the meadow. In each, they lend a most desirable and yet different impact.

If I haven’t succeeded in convincing your skeptical mind, just go on-line and browse the websites of bulb houses. The luscious images of all the different bulbs will. Fair warning ā€“ you will weaken and want far more than you could possibly imagine.
I’ve been shopping at John Scheepers and their wholesale sister Van Engelen for well over a decade. www.johnscheepers.com and www.vanengelen.com. By all means check out other sellers as well. There are indeed several reliable vendors. Prices are all comparable. It is a matter of bulb quality and size and, customer service.

Good news! I’ve responded to the request made by several of you and set up ‘shop’ to sell my botanical note cards. Please check out the page marked Shop. I’ll be adding more collections by and by. Would appreciate your feedback.

Camassia, alliums and tulips

Camassia, alliums and tulips


Allium 'Purple Sensation'

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’


Camassias and alliums

Camassias and alliums



Camassia and myosotis 'blue' up the meadow

Camassia and myosotis ‘blue’ up the meadow


Late May - in the meadow

Late May – in the meadow


IMG_2331
Nectaroscordum - a type of allium

Nectaroscordum – a type of allium


White camassia

White camassia


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

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4 thoughts on “Bloomin’ Onions And Sweet Quamash!

    • Alliums need to be planted deep enough, fed annually and require good drainage. Things you already know. Now, here is the often overlooked part – because of how sculptural they look even after they’re done blooming, we often let them stay on the stems and let them go to seed. This takes away the energy the bulb needs for future blooms. A lot of alliums seem to start producing seed on the flowerhead while they’re still in bloom, so to truly prevent seeding you have to sacrifice the last bit of bloom.
      Don’t cut off the stem (it is still needed for photosynthesis)- just cut off the flower head right below the top to prevent seeding.
      Once I learned this, my alliums have come up annually. Keep in mind, certain types of alliums are inherently short-lived.

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