By Mel Bellar
This was one of the most beautiful Falls ever (just saying) but if you ever read my column you already know that I am an aficionado of Fall. As much as I want to I am not going to go on about the Fall. Instead, I am going to write about some weird plants. When I say weird plants, I mean plants that have some feature that is so unusual that they stand out enough to draw attention and comment when encountered in the garden, or the wild. My garden, and a few others that I have helped to shape, have seen their share of garden tours and it is always interesting to see what attracts visitors’ attention. The weird plants do it over and over, which is not exactly what I am going for, but I guess I have to take responsibility and credit. I started out with a whole list of weird plants to discuss and seem to have only made it through the onions!
One of the most attention grabbing and weirdest plants is the Allium Schubertii and it is usually blooming around garden tour time. This amazing allium looks like exploding fireworks and it can get to be a foot in diameter. Its pinkish tones are soft and beautiful as it stands 12 to 18 inches tall on its leafless stalk and lasts in the garden for many weeks until it is a dried carcass. I actually think that this plant looks a little silly and wrong in the garden, but we have kept one of the dried seedheads in a vase on our mantel for the last 10 years. When it starts to look ratty, I order some more bulbs and plant a couple in our garden just so I can replace our mantel piece. That is the only reason they may show up in a client’s garden. But folks always seem to enjoy the diversion. There is another dramatic allium called The Star of Persia, Allium christophii¸ that has a similar fireworks quality, but does not quite stop folks in their tracks in quite the same way.
There is another odd onion that I have in my garden that may be an acquired taste, aesthetically of course (I never eat my ornamental onions except for the chive tops). This guy has a lot of names, Allium siculum Bulgaricum, Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. Bulgaricum, Sicilian Honey Lily or Summer Bells. It is a very strange looking plant that is hard to describe, so I am stealing the description from the Van Engelen bulb catalog where I buy 95% of my bulbs: Sicilian Honey Lily has delicate, yet substantive, 2″ wide umbels of 20 to 30 pendant greenish-white florets, flushed purple and edged in white. Each umbrella-like umbel emerges from a papery sheath after which the little nodding buds spread, growing on wiry 4″ stems. As the buds elevate, the flowers open to reveal interior green eyes and pink-to-deep-plum striations. The weirdest thing about the plant is the time when the flowers are in the
Shuberti, Shuberti with Girl, and Schubert’s Sparkle
“papery sheath” and it looks like the flowers are struggling to burst out of their restraints. It is very cool looking and lasts for a couple of weeks. The “bells” show off for several weeks before turning brown; then it is very hard to cut them down until finally it is painfully obvious that it is time. I have also cut these dried seedheads and brought them in the house as a dried arrangement. It is an odd onion worth considering for some June interest.
As you can imagine, I get a lot of plant catalogs and promotional emails; I have gotten quite adept at physically or virtually tossing them with little thought. Sometimes the cover photo catches my eye, and I might go a little deeper. Sometime in late Summer of 2019, I got an email with an image that attracted my attention. It was an allium that had “red” in the name. I have an area in my garden that I call the “hot garden” and I am always trying new plants in the yellow, orange and red color ranges, hoping for something amazing that thrives without effort. A red allium sounded great! I ordered 5 bags (2 per bag) of these Red Mohican Allium, Allium amethystinum “Red Mohican,” put them in and forgot about them. As the next season progressed these skinny stalks emerged from the tangle of plants in that area and eventually produced these adorable little reddish balls, about 1½ inches across, with very odd hairdos. They aren’t exactly fire engine red, but they are red enough and I love the way they hover about 2 ½ to 3 feet in the air saying “look at me.” My garden was on the West Kortright Centre garden tour this July (one of the highlights of the COVID summer,) and nearly every visitor asked about these little red punk flower dudes. I just ordered 30 more!
This is not the last you will hear about weird plants or even weird onions. Hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving and that we will be able to congregate without precaution soon.
Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener.~
|Left: Red Mohican in the grass Right: Allium Amethystinum “Red Mohican” grass|