Back Garden Notes

Time to Dig the Alliums

In the back garden there is a patch of Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ (Allium aflatunense) that has expanded substantially over time but that is also getting rather too congested. A sign of this is the thick growth of Allium foliage but fewer actual flowers than we saw last year. When they are done flowering I will have to dig them up and then replant a portion. The remainder will need new homes, in our garden or in the gardens of friends.


Allium 'Purple Sensation'
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’. Looks like ‘Globemaster’, but about half as tall.

The other thing these Allium need is companion plants. Right now when they die down they leave kind of a big empty space. The companion needs to bloom early summer or later and be big enough to avoid smothering by the Allium foliage. At the Chicago Botanic Garden they use a lot of daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.) for this purpose, but I’m not sure this spot has enough sun to make daylilies really happy. On the other hand, there seems to be enough sun for ‘Purple Sensation’ … Any suggestions?

Allium 'Purple Sensation', with false forget-me-not in the background.
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, with false forget-me-not in the background.

Here’s a fun horticultural fact: Alliums reproduce by both bulblets and bulbils. Bulbils are bulblets that are produced between the leaf and the stem, rather than as offsets of the bulb. “Bulbil” is a fine word, and sounds like one of the hobbit characters from JRR Tolkien.

Amsonia is a Star of the Raised Island Bed

Years ago I created a raised bed in the back as a way of protecting my perennials from root competition, particularly from the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) that stands near the middle of the garden. Silly me. That raised bed is now full of silver maple feeder roots, and as a result it has been difficult to find plants that will do really well there. What’s more, some of the plants that can tolerate the greedy maple roots fall prey to voracious rabbits.

Amsonia 'Blue Ice'
Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ (Amsonia tabernaemontana) is one of the few success stories I have had in this bed. It’s tough enough to muscle through competing roots, takes some shade, and rabbits find it unpalatable. As a result I just planted two more ‘Blue Ice’ in the island bed, plus I’m trying an Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii).

Blue Star 'Blue Ice'
More blue star.

Consider the Lilies of the Valley

Lily of the valley
Lily of the valley

The border along the hedge on the west side of the back garden is being invaded by lilies of the valley (Convallaria majalis), and I’m perfectly happy about it. They are creeping over from the neighbor’s yard, and actually I’d like to find them some reinforcements so they can take over an area now dominated by weeds. Only thing is, I can’t find any at the local nurseries. Isn’t that strange?

Arch of Anticipated Triumph

Arch over the path from the gate.
Arch over the path from the gate.

When I put up the arch over the path leading into the garden I imagined it covered with fragrant roses. I planted ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ on one side and ‘Westerland’ on the other. Subsequently ‘Westerland’ developed rose rosette disease and had to be removed. ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ climbed to the top of its side of the arch, but most of its canes died back over the winter. Still, the overall appearance of the entrance to the back garden looks pretty good I think. This is mostly because of what is growing around the arch, though, not on it.

A closer look.
A closer look.

Can this Deutzia be Saved?

Our poor sickly Deutzia.
Our poor sickly Deutzia.

Another casualty of winter seems to be the big old Deutzia that we inherited from the former owners. It has leafed out very sparsely, mostly near the top. It’s really a shame because this shrub is a significant presence in the back garden, and the birds like to use it for shelter. I intend to cut out the dead stems and see what happens. Anyone care to make a prediction or offer advice?

That’s it for now. I think my next post will be a hybrid tulip retrospective, but we’ll see. Thanks for visiting.

45 Comments on “Back Garden Notes”

  1. A friend grows Alliums up through Hebes, but I think they will not be hardy enough for you. I love everything in your garden, but the one plant I do not like is that Deutzia, I think you have a wonderful opportunity coming to replant with something far more lovely.

  2. I agree with Cathy. Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’ is hardy to zone 6. Evergreen leaves, fragant spring blooms. Your ‘Purple Sensation’ is terrific. Better scale and color than ‘Globemaster.’ Could you grow a narrow-leaf hosta with the allium? Some variegation would look nice here. Imagine a yellow accent stripe with the purple and blue blooms!

  3. Your yard/garden is always so lovely, BUT. I suggest getting rid of that silver maple. I removed four from my backyard and never regretted it, especially when a big wind came through several years ago and wreaked havoc in my town. Then there are the roots, and the red blossoms and winged seeds that clog the downspouts. Ugh – the stuff of homeowner nightmares!

  4. If I lived closer, I’d be lined up for your Allium castoffs and would bring you some Lilly of the Valley in exchange. I do have day lillies that bloom in much less than full sun and I have too many Maple trees to list including all those wanting to sprout up in my mulch. Good luck with your pruning and here’s hoping it flourishes.

  5. Purple sensation is a definate winner, I find that here and in the UK the allium foliage dies back before the flower so almost any slightly later flowering plant should work. I’d go for an Alpina and a vitecella clematis for the arch, two different flowering periods and the seedheads of Alpina look great all summer.

  6. I have never seen a deutzia that tall! Mine are ground spreaders if they survive at all. That maple is a problem. So is lily of the valley, lily of the valley just happens to do its business where people can see it, in a lot shorter span of time. (I think some states even have a ban on its sale, which might explain not being able to buy it.) I just spent a considerable amount of my gardening energy hacking away at where it is trying to make a run for it across my gravel path and into the hosta bed. If I had known I would have saved the underground eye and mailed them to you!

    But sending them to live with you does not seem to end plants staying here. I dug out what I thought was the entire clump of bloodroot that had popped up in the crevice between my house and deck and mailed it to you last year. If not for your post showing your own clump, I would think it my imagination. The clump in the crevice is not in any way diminished!!!

    And of course for the arch, as I posted the pic in my blog, clematis ‘Blue Dancer’.. You can also read about the fate of the two climbing roses that had reached the top of my pergola last year for the garden walk.

      • I bought it through a local nursery here in Plainfield, WI– Russell’s Market at the end of the season in 2012. I have been picking up different clematis here and there on clearance for years now. Its an alpina, so it is not something carried by a big box.

  7. What about helenium to cover up the allium’s dying foliage? It’s tall and blooms late. Might need more sun, but as you say, if the alliums do well, why not helenium? On another note, I was struck by your trellis, as I am planning to put one in my new back yard and try a climbing rose. OK, so yours didn’t work out exactly as planned, but the underplantings look fantastic, right? I’m going to go for the same effect.

  8. I agree with Julie, ditch the Deutzia. I would replace it with a golden Philadelphus coronarius ‘ Aureus’ which has beautiful foliage and fragrant flowers.
    I love your arch, it would be perfect for a well behaved Clematis.
    With your Alliums I would grow geraniums, campanulas, gypsophila, Alchemilla mollis.

  9. My vote for under the Alliums is for natives, especially Milkweeds as our Monarchs need them but for part-sun you may want anise hyssop, joe pye weed, spiderwort, foxglove penstemon or amsonia. I have a 160yr old home that I also inherited some old shrubs that I probably wouldn’t have planted, but I feel belong to the history of the place. I would cut back the dead wood and fertilize. I think it will come through.

  10. I’d take a third of the stems out of the deutzia and see if it stimulates any new growth from the base. If it does, take out another third next year and the final third the following year. You should be cutting live wood when you do this, not dead, and cut them right back to the ground.
    Of course, since it blooms on last years wood you’ll be sacrificing some blooms but it’s worth it to stimulate new, strong growth.

  11. You are still ahead of us. My Amsonia is just out of the ground and only starting to bud. The Allium only opened two days ago. Plus many bulbs are blooming that I don’t see in your garden now, but did in your previous posts. Your garden looks lovely now and I do love your path through the arch.

  12. Hi Jason, do you find that Purple Sensation is self-seeding a lot? The foliage of my alliums is covered up by plants like Phlomis, Pittosporum, Geranium, Hemerocallis and lots of grasses. I would cut back the Deutzia to about 1m and see what happens. It seems quite straggly anyway. If it dies you’ll have room for soemthing new. I really have to get an Amsonia, just love them!

  13. My Deutzia.could not survive after its second winter, so I do not know what to advise you Jason.
    Your island bed looks pretty, especially blue star! About onions: you’re right, they need to be dug, because bulbs have to be dried until autumn. I used not to dig them after flowering but they disappeared very often.

  14. So much colour already in the garden. And thanks for getting me to think about digging my alums they totally need it. You could cut that shrub back to the ground and have it start over… maybe its getting too old. Shame though for sure. This winter was hard on a lot of things.

  15. Pingback: Peony’s Progress | gardeninacity

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