Spring is all about bulbs. White, yellow and blue dominate the spectrum, especially when it comes to native bulbs – native to the UK and Ireland anyway. Two white-flowered alliums are dominating the landscape at the moment, creating swathes of pure, fresh white.
Allium triquetrum (the triangular leek) is a bit of a stunner really. While most alliums have flat or tubular leaves and cylindrical flower scapes, this one has leaves that have a distinct crease in them and the flower scapes are triangular in cross section making this a real curiosity. The leaves appear in early winter and are evergreen. Here in the south east of Wexford, near the coast, it can start to bloom as early as January and continues until May after which it dies down. Each 45cm flower stem carries a cluster of about a dozen small (1cm) trumpet-shaped, white flowers. Each petal has a green stripe down the centre. It makes a good cut flower. It grows well in part shade and under deciduous shrubs and is totally garden-worthy.
But before I get lynched I have to say that although undeniably beautiful, this is a bit of a thug and it can spread widely by seed. Some people will not touch it but I have put it in my own garden in Cambridgeshire in the UK and it has not become a nuisance after a decade or so. If you are worried about it then deadhead it and it shouldn’t become a problem. Just put it where you want to have it because, like so many bulbs, you can inadvertently spread it when you dig it up and drop bulblets all over the place. Do not plant it where it could smother delicate little things but put it in a wild area or at the edge of a lawn or under a hedge and you will come to love it rather than curse it. Although not native to the UK or Ireland (as far as I know) it is a European native and is widely naturalised.
The other allium is the wild garlic (Allium ursinum) which is truly native and a common sight (and smell) at this time of year all over the UK (and Scotland if you are reading this after September 14) and Ireland. Unlike Allium triquetrum, this one has bread leaves, almost like lily-of-the-valley. The flowers are fairly standard allium fare; white, small and starry, on stems about 30cm high.
It grows in shade, under deciduous shrubs and trees, along roadsides and in hedges and in areas beside rivers that are seasonally flooded and it is an attractive plant for a shady spot but it is much more invasive than the triangular leek. Somehow this doesn’t seem to matter to people because it is a native plant but just be warned.
If you do have lots to spare, wave them in front of a professional chef and they will be your friend forever – well until the next fad comes along – and you can certainly use the leaves in the kitchen to flavour your culinary creations.