The British Allium Fact File
LATIN NAME: Allium
COMMON NAME: Allium or ornamental onion to gardeners
AVAILABILITY: May to August, weather permitting and variety depending
COLOUR RANGE: White but more commonly from mauve to deep purple
BEST BUYING DAYS AT New Covent Garden Flower Market: Monday and Thursday
The Origins of Alliums
In the wild, alliums occur in the temperate climates of the northern hemisphere.
The word allium means garlic in Latin and there are literally hundreds of varieties of allium in existence, from culinary onions and garlic to the ornamental varieties more common to gardening and floristry.
In the language of flowers, the allium is generally taken to mean unity, humility and patience – nothing too offensive there, then!
Alliums as a Cut Flower
Alliums are a pretty broad grouping, but most have distinctive globular flowers made up of hundreds of individual flowerheads. The foliage is pretty inconsequential: green, straight blades for the most part, which tend to be discarded in favour of the magnificent blooms.
Beloved by florists for their tall architectural, sculptural forms, alliums are generally left long in vase arrangements and dramatic, full bouquets. Bloomsbury Flowers have cut them short for British Flowers Week, transforming their form and focusing the eye on the fascinating textural detail of the flowerheads
Coming as they do from the onion family, they have a rather distinctive onion smell. “They’re wonderful flowers if you’re looking at them from the other side of a window,” laughs Trevor Clackett of SR Allen. He exaggerates, of course, but refresh the water daily and you will keep the onion smell in check.
Here are some of the most popular varieties of allium
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’
Allium sphaerocephalon or drumstick alliums
Allium ‘Mount Everest’
Depending on the variety, the season for alliums runs from May to September.
Most varieties come in wraps of ten, apart from Allium ‘Globemaster’ which is sold in bunches of five stems and Allium schubertii which you can buy by the individual stem. Look for strong firm stems which hold the flowerhead without drooping.
Rona Wheeldon advises: “Some varieties have delicate flower heads and the florets can stick together. If you find the flower heads are a little flattened from transit, it’s been said that a good way of fluffing them out is to hold the stems upside down in between the palms of your hands and spin them to and fro.”
We look forward to photos of spinning alliums for #BritishFlowersWeek.
Alliums will look magnificent for a good 7-10 days if they are well looked after. That distinctive odeur d’ognion comes from the chemical cysteine sulfoxide, which alliums emit. Change the water daily and that scent should be kept at bay.
So, here are some top tips for ensuring that your British flowers last as long as possible:
– ensure that your vase is scrupulously clean so that there are no bacteria lurking around
– remove any leaves that would be below the water line to stop any rot
– trim the flower stems to the preferred length
– arrange the stems in your clean vase filled with fresh water mixed with the flower food provided
– keep your flowers out of direct sunlight, away from radiators, drafts and even from your fruit bowl (ethylene shortens vase life)
– trim the stems and top up the vase every day
WHERE TO BUY
The peak season for British alliums is May to September, depending on the weather and the particular variety, of course. During this period, the main deliveries come fresh into the Flower Market from the growers for Monday and Thursday morning trading.
Key wholesalers of British alliums include:
If you have any top tips on British alliums, we would love to hear from you. Simply write your comments in the box below.