Favorite flower blends with all plants, stands up to the wild ones

By 
Erin Schanen

A lot of gardens have “hot” borders, where oranges, reds and golds are sent to duke it out amongst themselves. I admit to banishing more than one trial plant with bold-colored flowers because they just don’t work with the pinks and peaches that play a strong role in much of my garden.

The hot border got a bit of redo this spring, and new hot plants, such as sneezeweed (Helenium ‘Fuego’) and yarrow (Achillea ‘Terracotta’), were paired with more soothing tones of Russian sage (which used to be known as Perovskia atriplicifolia but is now Salvia yangii thanks to taxonomists armed with DNA results). As you might expect for a garden full of brightly colored plants, it has come into its full glory this month, once again putting me to shame for previously plunking these plants in a forgotten corner.

As I studied the garden this weekend, I noticed one plant in particular in the wild party of the hot border: Allium ‘Millenium’ (spelled with one “n” because that’s how it was registered, perhaps to force garden columnists to have to explain to editors why they have spelled it contrary to the dictionary spelling). Its purply-pink racquetball-sized flowers inexplicably provide a strong form and cooling moment among an otherwise raucous display.

And it reminded me why ‘Millenium’ and other similar perennial alliums including ‘Summer Beauty,’ ‘Serendipity’ and ‘Big Beauty’ are perpetually on my list of must-have plants. Whenever I’m advising a friend on a garden plan or adding plants to my own garden, these alliums are at the top of the list simply because they ask for so little and offer so much.

Different from the fall-planted bulbs that offer a whimsical late spring show and the garlic and onions grown in vegetable gardens, perennials alliums have strappy, semi-attractive foliage and ball-shaped flowers that range from light pink to purple depending on the variety. They attract bees by the hundreds during a month of bloom and resist deer and rabbit attack (although are not immune to it according to gardeners who report wildlife with garlic breath in their yards). In fall they turn a brilliant yellow and in winter they make a perfect perch for a tuft of freshly fallen snow.

The only thing required of a gardener who plants them is to cut or break off the previous year’s stems in spring and occasionally check for rogue seedlings, which is more common with some varieties than others. They are easily divided for gardeners looking for more plants but don’t balk at being crowded.

Beyond all those good qualities, it looks great with so many other plants. Perennial allium’s form makes it a natural fit with short grasses such as autumn moor grass (Sesleria autumnalis) or calamint (Calamintha nepeta). And its color means it blends well with nearly every end of the spectrum, from paler tones of white and pink to the bright and bold tones of a hot border.

And if it can hold its own with that wild bunch, you know it can handle just about anything a garden can throw at it.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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