Alliums and roses add color, texture

Photo by Susan Safford

A cardinal flashes across the lawn. The treetops sway and sough despite the stillness, awaiting tropical storm Arthur. They and the lawn seem actively receptive of the raindrops, having been so thirsty; in a season this dry, it is a nice variation on the Glorious Fourth.

Garden sculpture: alliums

Ornamental alliums do not appear extensively in Island gardens, which is a pity since as bulbs they are cold hardy, tolerate average soil, and avoided by deer. They bridge the late spring to early-summer season of bloom between tulips until annuals, lilies, and hemerocallis begin flowering.

Two impressive cultivar/species: the astounding ‘Globemaster,’ tall (three to four feet), purple flower heads to eight inches that last and last, and an astronomical price per bulb; and Allium schubertii (more modestly priced than ‘Globemaster’), an exploding fireworks of a flowering head, starred with lavender florets, that may exceed a foot across. Stems are one to two feet tall.

Even after the color has gone by, the skeletons of the stately flowering heads remain effective architectural presences in the garden. Tulips or lilies, in contrast, become entirely null once past, while the standing heads of alliums provide weeks of subsequent interest.

Alchemilla mollis combines well with alliums, whose foliage has a tendency to yellow and fade before the flowering heads do. The alchemilla, a frothy base of chartreuse and green, masks the yellowing leaves.

In the vegetable garden, leeks in their second year similarly send up towering flower stalks topped with fragrant softball-sized flower heads in white, pink, or mauve that attract pollinators and beneficial wasps by the dozens. As the small black seeds ripen and fall, they may germinate around the parent plant and may be lined out, giving the garden a ready-made supply of “pencil” leeks before fall.

The subject was roses

‘Glorious’ is often used in conjunction with roses, and this June has demonstrated why. It has been a great month for them, due mainly to the plentiful rainfall early on and the cooler-than-average temperatures, it seems.

The plants have benefited greatly, with many of their pests absent or delayed by cool weather and wonderful displays of bloom ensuing. I regret however that Island gardens display so limited a selection of them, when there is so much more “out there” in the roses department.

The comprehensive and instructive DK “Encyclopedia of Roses” (Charles & Brigid Quest-Ritson, DK Publishing, 2011, 448 pgs., $40) has informed me greatly this season. I have spent enjoyable time with it, examining its descriptions, full color photographs, and histories of rose breeders — and just plain daydreaming, too.

The coffee table volume demonstrates the stupendous breadth and variety of roses available for all climates. No one needs to be without a rose or roses because of “black thumbs” or other fears, as the popular Knockout series has shown. At one time, many of the most glorious roses available were bred in a band of warm, dry conditions from the south of France through to Bulgaria and Turkey. Roses flourish in those conditions, which is why many of the most comprehensive U. S. rose collections are located in California.

Rose breeders have sought to rectify that situation by hybridizing with a wide array of rose species, yielding floriferous plants that could flourish in the frigid winters of the American Midwest and Canada and in the British Isles with their dampness, and be resistant to a wide spread of disease organisms.

Along with the breeding of hardy and trouble-free modern roses has come a tendency to grow them on their own roots, a big shift from the heyday of Hybrid Teas, whose fussiness required grafting to an understock to do well in the typical garden. Since breaking the ‘taboo of own-roots,’ the cutting-grown rose has become a reality for you and me! A very complete description of how to do this in a baggy is available at

Look for the following DK titles, all worthwhile additions to the gardener’s reference library, in addition to the “Encyclopedia of Roses. In association with the American Horticultural Society DK publishes: “AHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers;” “AHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants;” “AHS Encyclopedia of Gardening;” and “AHS Encyclopedia of Perennials.”

American painted lady larvae

Soon after the Garden Notes that ran on June 26, which contained a short section about Helichrysum petiolare and the American painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterfly larvae, the first nests also appeared. I had written about my eliminating helichrysum when planting containers: its tendency to become a magnet for the bristly, black caterpillar nests “disfigured” it in decorative terms, according to my thinking at the time.

Once I connected the black, bristly caterpillars and their frass — bit of ee-yew factor — with the charming adult butterflies, my thinking about the matter changed and I decided to return to using H. petiolare, at least here at home in my own containers.

After checking with Matt Pelikan, whose always authoritative Wild Side alternates in this space, I learned it is possible that larvae may not successfully mature on H. petiolare. “Interesting to know whether it actually works to raise young all the way to maturity,” he demurred.

Preferred larval food of Vanessa virginiensis is species of the Compositae, especially Anaphalis margaritacea, the pearly everlasting of Island sandplains. Much as when monarch butterflies may be decoyed into laying eggs on the milkweed relative, black swallowwort, with abortive results, many other butterflies must find the correct larval food-plant for their eggs to hatch and grow successfully.

While it might signify personal growth and even enlightenment on my part to promote butterfly larvae at the expense of container aesthetics, it is not yet clear if I am actually helping them.


Goodbye and good rest to Walter Ashley, who extended the useful lives of many a mower and power-saw for home gardeners and landscapers alike.