Last spring I shared a perennial garden design featuring alliums from Longfield Gardens (Bountiful Blooms, you can order the collection here). That was during allium bloom time. Now that it’s allium planting time, I am sharing a second design. As I’ve shared before, I use alliums frequently for their cool color palette, deer resistance and unexpected texture. The two designs that I developed for Longfield Gardens are completely different. The first one, Beautiful Blooms, focused on color and lush blooms. This second one, Daring Forms, plays on textures. I used Giant Allium ‘Gladiator’ and Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’ in both designs, which showcases their versatility. All of the bulbs are available either separately or in pre-packaged in collections from www.longfield-gardens.com Articles on their website about these designs offer additional details, photos and more information about the plants.
Inspiration: This garden weaves perennials, grasses and bulbs into a beautiful tapestry of changing colors and dynamic textures. The look is ethereal, but the plants are as tough as nails. This border will tolerate heat and drought, and requires very little maintenance. Planted among these easy-care perennials are three types of alliums, each with a different height, flower size and bloom time. They will be the crowning jewels in this contemporary garden design.
Implementing the Design:
With the last design I walked you through the planting process step by step. With this one, you’ll be able to follow along as we’re actually planting the perennials and bulbs. We will revisit the design over the course of next year so you can really see how all the plants will play with each other. A disclaimer is I only planted half of the design, making this only 9 feet x 10 feet compared to 18 wide.
WHEN TO PLANT:
The perennials in this design can be planted anytime between mid-spring (after the soil has warmed to 60+ degrees) through early fall. Whenever you plant, make sure to provide a consistent supply of water for the first few months so the plants are able to establish strong roots. Allium and crocus bulbs are only available for fall planting. You can purchase the bulbs in August or September, but wait to plant them until soil temperatures have cooled down, sometime between mid-October and the beginning of November. In mild years I have planted as late as Thanksgiving and have not had any issues. If you plant too early, the warmth of the soil can rot the bulbs.
Giant Allium ‘Gladiator’, Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’, Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’ Species Crocus ‘Romance’ and Giant Crocus ‘Yalta’ – You can order the bulbs in the beginning of August up until November, but shop early for best selection. When the bulbs arrive (see image below for how bulbs will arrive), store them in a cool, dry location until you are ready to start planting.
Here is how my bulbs arrived from Longfield Gardens for planting. Keep bulbs in their bags until planting, once opened will be difficult to tell apart.
Artemisia ‘Fowls Castle’, Pentsemon ‘Dark Towers’ Beardtongue, Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’, Ajuga reptans ‘Binblasca’ Bugleweed, Stachys byzantine ‘Helen von Stein’ – Look for these at your local garden center or online suppliers like Longfield Gardens. Plants in 1-2 quart containers are fine. Larger sizes cost more and require more work planting.
When selecting plants, take a minute to pull the plant from the container and look at the root system. You want to see fresh, white roots. Typically, the later in the season you purchase, the greater the chance the plant will be root bound. You can still buy root bound plants, but you will need to cut/slice the roots around the edges and cut off the bottom “foot” (about an inch) to encourage new growth before placing in the ground. If you don’t the “tease” the roots there is a chance the roots will continue to circle and not properly establish— this is called girdling.
Prepping for Planting:
When selecting the location for your border, look for a place that gets full sun. These plants will do great in a hot spot within your garden. Once you have your location, prep the bed by tilling or turning the soil and adding organic matter. I use leaf compost made from the previous year’s clippings, but you can purchase a similar product from your local garden center. A little goes a long way. If you amend your soil too much, you run the risk of having floppy plants later in the season. You want to make sure you are providing a well-balanced soil that drains well and has plenty of nutrients to help plants get established. If you’re unsure about the pH or nutrient levels in your soil, it wouldn’t hurt to start with a soil test. They’re available through garden centers or online services.
A handful of soil amendments to tilled into the soil prior to planting. you are looking to add this into the soil about 8-10 inches deep.
STEP ONE: When you have your bed prepped and plants purchased, use the design as a guide for placing the plants on the bed – still in their containers. This allows you to work out spacing before you start to dig. Begin in the center of the bed and work out to the sides. If your bed is narrower or deeper than our 10 ft x 18 ft design, this will give you a chance to make some changes in spacing. DO NOT PLACE OR PLANT THE BULBS YET, this will be the last step.
STEP TWO: Once you finalized your placement, you can start planting. If your design is against a building, start at the back and work forward. Leave all the plants in their place and move one at a time as you dig the hole, then place the potted plant into its hole. Once all holes are dug, you can go back to un-pot, cut roots (see up in selecting plants about root bound plants) and formally plant. This method limits the exhaustive up and down strain on your back.
Here are the plants still in containers in their holes. You can see that this method sees the least disruption to the original placement.
Here is a before and after of a root bound plant when preparing for planting. You can see all the white roots wrapping around the soil. In the second photo I have used my fingers to loosen and break the roots around the sides and used by soil knife to cut off the foot or bottom inch of soil. This step will help the roots travel into the new soil.
STEP THREE: When you have all the potted perennials planted, give each plant a deep watering. Proper moisture is the key to establishment. You can use an overhead sprinkler or water by hand. Either way, I always do the finger test. Stick your finger in the soil, if soil sticks to it, you are fine. If not, it’s too dry and you need to water more. If you plant the potted perennials in spring or summer, stop at this point and add the bulbs in the fall.
STEP FOUR: Referring to the design, start by placing your bulbs on top of the soil as you did with the plants. This way you can make sure you are happy with your spacing and have everything spread out. The ‘Purple Sensation’ and ‘Mount Everest’ bulbs should be mixed into the back third of the garden. The crocuses are planted in groups of 4-5 bulbs keeping the ‘Romance’ within the ‘Helen von Stein’ and the ‘Yalta’ within the Bugleweed.
STEP FIVE: Once you have laid out all the bulbs, pick a corner and work across the bed, planting as you go. For each allium, dig a hole that’s 3 times the depth of the bulb and a little bigger than the width of the bulb. Place a sprinkle of bone meal in the bottom of the hole as a starter fertilizer, add the bulb and cover. For the crocuses, dig 8-inch diameter holes that are 3 times the depth of the bulbs. Add 4-5 crocus bulbs and cover. Once all the bulbs are planted, you can mulch the bed with chopped up yard leaves (optional).
Planting the Allium Bulbs: (note the depth of my soil knife in the first photo to showcase how deep you need an allium hole)
Planting Crocus Bulbs:
Here is the completed planting after the bulbs have been planted, but prior to covering of leaf mulch for the winter.
The first year your garden will look good, the second year will be better, and the third year and beyond will be the real pay off for all your hard work. Consistent watering is key the first year, especially throughout the hot summer months. Make sure to remove any weeds that try to take root in the border. After a few years, the plants will be large enough to choke out most weeds.
I am a gardener who doesn’t cut back my perennials in the fall, because I like to enjoy their winter structure. That being said, if some plants are looking pretty gnarly, feel free to clean them up a bit. Come spring, we cut back the perennials for a fresh start and mulch the beds with 1½ to 2” of compost or chopped leaves. In this case, more is not better. We keep the mulch layer thin so as not to smother the base of the perennials. This organic matter will also feed your garden for the year so no addition fertilizer is really needed. By the second year, the perennials will be well rooted and you’ll only need to be concerned about watering during periods of drought. If you do water, make sure you are soaking the soil to encourage the roots to go deeper into the soil. Shallow watering will encourage shallow roots.
ALLIUM and CROCUS MAINTENANCE:
The following spring, keep your eyes open for the bulbs breaking through with the rest of your perennials. The crocuses will bloom first in early spring followed by the alliums in late spring. The idea of this design is that once the bulbs have finished blooming, emerging perennials will cover up the dying bulb foliage. I am a big fan of leaving the dried heads of the alliums to add visual interest as far into the summer as possible. I generally end up pulling the dry stocks out come late July. You can also hang and dry the allium heads to make stunning dried arrangements.
I will share photos of the garden growing all next year and beyond so you can see how the design is expressed in living, growing, changing plants. Please let me know if you have any specific questions, I will be glad to answer. Please visit Longfield Gardens for additional information and to purchase the bulbs in used the design HERE.
DOWNLOAD THE PDF: daring-forms_allium_garden_design
Also, there are some other great bloggers sharing about allium bulbs throughout the week for you to check out: