Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Sicilian Honey Garlic

The dangling flowers of Sicilian honey garlic are one of Spring's eccentric charms. In my eagerness to site the bulbs close to a walkway, I didn't think about the nearby plants, such as the yellow-leaved coreopsis or the self-seeding orange poppies. Yipes. I could have intensifed the clash with the muted palette of honey garlic flowers—rose, slate green, and cream—only if I'd also planted something red. 

 

Nectaroscordum siculum overall 060516 640

 

In the picture below, see how the coloring of each tepal is different from its neighbors? There are three green-and-cream ones, which are the outer set; if they looked and functioned a bit less like true petals, they'd be called sepals. The inner three are the true petals, and are rose, pink and cream. Because both sets are so similar (apart from coloring, true), they are all called tepals.

 

Nectaroscordum siculum closer 060516 640

 

The blossoms of Nectaroscordum siculum are so pendulous that you can see inside only by lifting one or two upward with your finger. The entire plant reeks of garlic, so harvesting the flowers—whether to use in a vase or, simply, to get a better look inside the blossoms—is usually thought of as a stinky mistake. The inner surfaces of the tepals are much rosier.

 

Nectaroscordum siculum fingers even closer 060516 640

 

Nectaroscordum siculum couldn't be easier to grow: just provide sun and decent drainage. Choosing partner plants that harmonize with this bulb when it's in flower in late Spring is a bit trickier. See below for plenty of suggestions—as well as an explanation for the plant's bizarre common name, honey garlic.

 

 

Here's how to grow Sicilian honey garlic:

 

 

Latin Name

Nectaroscordum siculum. The unusual genus name translates as nectar garlic, and the species name, from Sicily. Nectar garlic? Let's rephrase that as garlicky nectar. All parts of this plant reek. The flowers are visited by bees (and, reportedly, even hummingbirds); presumably, if there are enough florets for the bees to patronize, the resultant honey may well be garlicky. And Nectaroscordum can sometimes self-seed abundantly, especially in its native habitat: land bordering the north shore of the Mediterranean, and islands within, such as Sicily, where there could be hundreds of the bulbs in a given meadow. This, then, makes sense of some of the otherwise incomprehensible common names below.

 

Also known as Trigonea siculaAllium siculum, Nothoscordum siculum, and Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. bulgaricum. Not readily distinguishable from Allium bulgaricum; the Pacific Bulb Society suggests that commercially available bulbs are hybrids of the two. 

Common Name

Sicilian honey garlic, honey garlic, Sicilian honey lily, Mediterranean bells.

Family

Amaryllidaceae, the Amaryllis family.

What kind of plant is it?

Perennial Spring-flowering bulb.

Hardiness

Zones 4 to 8.

Habit

As is typical for ornamental onions, Nectaroscordum foliage emerges early in Spring (or, in milder climates, in mid-Winter), but is already going dormant as flowers emerge in late Spring. The habit of its flowers sets it apart from most other forms of Allium, whose flowerheads are typically dense with florets that are held in tight erect clusters in the shape of spheres, ovals, or fat cones. Each tall, leafless, but often leaning or swooping Nectaroscordum flower stem is tipped by clusters of large, downward-facing, bell-shaped florets that are each, strikingly, at the tip of its own lengthy pendulous pedicel; they hang loosely, even shaggily. By the time a floret has matured to a seedpod, though, its pedicel has curved up so that the pod faces skyward. 

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Foliage is rarely important in considering the aesthetic impact or mature dimensions of Allium species. This is especially true of Nectaroscordum, whose foliage is not usually higher than a foot, but whose tall flower stems can be three feet high, more or less. In my experience, they often lean and curve eccentrically, so the effective height can be less. Clumps gradually thicken and expand as bulbs produce offsets, but any dramatic increase in width, let alone spread, will be be due to self-seeding—or by planting more bulbs yourself—than by vegetative increase from established bulbs.  

Texture

As is typical for ornamental onions, the foliage begins to go dormant as flowering progresses. By its peak of display, a colony of Nectaroscordum will be tall leafless flower stalks topped by the intriguing pendulous bell-shaped florets dangling at the ends of lengthy pedicels. The texture, then, is airy, albeit with a strange and even a bit sinister vibe: Nectaroscordum is certainly interesting, but you'd never call it pretty.

Grown for

its unusual flowers: Although the shades of rose, green, and cream are muted, they are displayed with brio. The florets dangle, so you'll see just their outside surfaces if you don't raise one up with your finger. There are six tepals; the outer three are green at the base and cream toward the tips, whereas the inner three quickly switch from green to dusty rose and pink with a thin edge of cream. The alternation of green-cream with green-rose-cream is delightful. If you peer inside, you'll see darker rose all around, with a wider border of cream at the edge.

 

its durability: Clumps can thrive for decades without intervention; it's not unusual for some other ornamental onions—the giant ones in particular—to poop out after a few years.

 

its flexibility: Nectaroscordum is a great species to scatter through plantings. As long as its (admittedly) somewhat limiting color palette is respected, and its locations provide necessary drainage and early-season sun, the bulb can associate with almost any plant partners. The smooth leafless flower stalks are tall enough to poke up through or alongside almost any neighboring growth, and the dangling florets at their tips ornament any other flowers or foliage in a pink-friendly context. Plus, it isn't necessary to have extensive colonies, nor do the locations or number of bulbs matter. Let one flower stalk poke up over here, another way over there, and a squad of them on the other side of the garden entirely. See "Where to use it," below.

 

its lack of interest for browsers: As is typical for most ornamental onions, the bulbs, leaves, stems, and blooms of Nectaroscordum are not even sampled by browsers, let alone seriously chewed, although the florets' pollen and nectar are harvested by pollinators.

Flowering season

Late Spring: Early June here in southern New England.

Color combinations

The flowers' distinctive and geometrically complex combination of gray-green, cream, pink, and dusty wine provides all the starting colors and their degrees of saturation for the companion plants. More intense shades are likely to look cheap, and—as my pictures above prove so stridently— additional colors are likely to clash at worst, or look too busy at best. Perhaps the only additions that don't cross the line would be slate blue or—see "Plant partners," below—burgundy.

Partner plants

Companions for Nectaroscordum need to be chosen far more thoughtfully than I did! Creating a color context that is at once contrasting as well as echoing is the obvious priority. The challenge is doing so with companion plants that have enough bulk to associate with the Nectaroscordum blossom clusters (which might be anywhere from one to three feet above ground) and yet don't shade out the bulb's foliage.

 

The foliage will be dormant by the time the bulbs are  flowering in mid-to-late Spring, and is viable just for the preceding late-Winter / early-Spring window—a month or two out of the year at the longest—and, so, it needs all possible sun. Companion plants at the south and west need to be shorter (either naturally or as a result of pruning); restrict plants that are tall in Spring to the east or north. In all cases, companion plants need to welcome any pruning that might be needed to minimize shading the Nectaroscordum foliage; companions need to be close enough to pair well with the bulbs' blossom clusters, but can't produce unmanageable growth that eventually shades out the bulbs' leaves.

 

Perhaps the most important victory would be to introduce some burgundy nearby. Consider using just one or two of these many plant options to follow: A little burgundy goes a long way.

 

At the front, perhaps something from the ever-expanding herd of colorful Heuchera cultivars. Foliage of 'Obsidian' is too dark; what about 'Plum Pudding'? Dwarf purple-leaved shrubs are another possibility; Weigela 'Midnight Wine' never needs pruning to remain about a foot tall.

 

The vibrant dark foliage of Cotinus 'Velvet Cloak' might not be carried low enough on the shrub if it's allowed to grow free-range; you could ensure low-elevation growth by delaying the smoke bush's annual cut-back until after Nectaroscordum blooms have faded. (The shrub is normally coppiced in late Winter, but resprouting foliage might not be tall enough by mid-to-late Spring to look the Nectaroscordum blooms in the eye.) Coppicing after flowering is the best way to control size of Physocarpus, too, and there are lovely purple-leaved forms. This pruning schedule also enables you to enjoy the shrub's nicely-contrasting clusters of pale pink flowers.

 

In Zones 6 and colder, there are very few ways to achieve burgundy foliage with plants that can be grown as hedges, especially now that Berberis is no longer recommended on account of its self-seeding. If you are gardening in Zone 7 and warmer, you're in luck: New foliage of Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Purpureus' is a startling shade of inky burgundy. The pruning needed to grow this shrub as a hedge is the way to ensure emergence of a prolific crop of dark new foliage each Spring—while also keep the shrub compact enough so as not to shade the foliage of Nectaroscordum.

 

For Zones 5 to 7, you may have the opportunity to grow a hedge of purple-leaved beech. Provided that you start with small plants, and cut them back to a foot or so in late Winter for the first two years after planting, they'll continue to produce plenty of low-enough foliage even as you permit the hedge to assume its mature height. The Nectaroscordum blossom clusters will show up dramatically against it, and because the bulbs appreciate the same good-to-excellent drainage that beeches require, the two could form a lasting partnership. Plant the bulbs on the south or west side of the hedge so that it doesn't shade their foliage.

 

The weeping forms of purple-leaved Cercis canadensis ('Ruby Falls') and Acer palmatum (such as 'Red Pygmy') provide sensational contrast in texture, and their stems' cascading habit ensures that the foliage is right at the level of the Nectaroscordum blooms. But the cascade is spreading, not just vertical, and is thick enough to function as groundcover. It takes a certain coldness of heart to prune out specific branches to keep Nectaroscordum clumps from being shaded out by the advancing tide of these tree's cascading purple-leaved branches, but the combination of the bulbs' flower clusters with these tree's dense and dark canopies certainly is tempting.

 

Flowers are another way to bring complementary color near the Nectaroscordum blossom clusters. If you can grow hybrid tulips—my indigenous wildlife eats them promptly, alas—the flowers of the later forms should be peaking the same time as those of Nectaroscordum. Single late tulips are perhaps the best class to consider, especially the velvety maroon cultivar 'Queen of the Night'.

 

Many iris are also in flower late May into June, and these perennials' astonishing number of multi-colored cultivars create the opportunity to harmonize very specifically with the various colors of Nectaroscorum blossoms. Standards of the bearded cultivar 'Silken Trim' are dusty plum, and the falls are maroon; 'Black Magic Woman' is similar. Standards of 'Indian Chief' are paler pink; the falls are deep purple. Standards and falls of 'Society Lady' are both deep magenta. Standards and falls of 'Under My Thumb' are plum-veined magenta.

 

Because most iris are once-flowering, and their foliage requires full sun the rest of the season, few merit inclusion in garden beds designed for season-long display despite their fabulously colorful and voluptuous flowers. Nectaroscordum is once-flowering also, so perhaps there's a sunny but out-of-the-way spot in your garden for this combo's strictly May-into-June performance.

Where to use it in your garden

Although its flower stalks are tall enough and its clusters of pendulous florets large enough for Nectaroscordum to be effective even at a distance, the details of the blossoms' coloring are so subtle and sophisticated that it would be cruel to deny the opportunity to study them at close range. Ensure that at least a few bulbs are planted close enough to grass or paving that the flowers can be appreciated literally in-hand: The temptation is irresistible to tilt a floret or two upright and, so, finally discern how the complex color pattern that washes over the outer surfaces of the tepals plays out on the inner ones.

 

Keep in mind, though, how unattractive always-too-soon-to-fade allium foliage is. Bushy plants that hide it and, yet, neither grow so tall they obscure the flower stalks nor emerge so early that they shade out the sun-loving foliage will likely need a minimum of eighteen inches of bed at the front of the Nectaroscordum colony. Its swaying and individually-arraying flower stems combine effortlessly with irregular and mounding growth of perennials, Spring bulbs, low shrubs, and grasses that are likely to be among your choices to hide the foliage from the front. 

 

Plants at the back of the colony that are dense and full to the ground provide effective backdrop to both the tall but often irregularly arrayed stems and the pendulous florets at their tips. An even stronger effect would be achieved by juxtaposing Nectaroscordum with at least some frank and tidy geometry: a densely columnar shrub, a carefully-pruned sphere or mound, or—at the back—a block of hedge. Extra points if any of these bears foliage in one of the colors of the Nectaroscordum blossoms, not just in neutral green. There are many options; in "Plant partners," above, I focus at length on ways to introduce just one of the possible companion colors: burgundy.

 

The seemingly deliberate variance in the orientation of flower stems—upright? leaning? swooping?—ensures that Nectaroscordum looks like an eccentric but welcome visitor to the garden, not a stalwart let alone a mainstay. Popping up in unexpected locations is part of the appeal; conversely, it's likely that, if planted in regular and carefully sited groups of a dozen and more—as you might well do for ornamental onions whose flower stems are orderly—Nectaroscordum will project a "Who me?" look. Instead, scatter bulbs singly or in groups of three to five.

 

See "Plant partners," above, for many possibilities.

Culture

Full sun and any soil with good drainage, especially in the Winter. In its native Mediterranean habitats, Nectaroscordum is reportedly found in moist and even shady ravines and woodlands. This is likely because more open and elevated terrain there can be so dry and stony that those comparatively moist exceptions are preferable despite the potential for rotting in the cool season. Unless your garden enjoys a Mediterranean climate, provide Nectaroscordum with the same hot, sunny, and well-drained conditions that you would for any other allium.   

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant bulbs five inches deep as they become available Summer into Fall. Little routine care is needed thereafter unless self-seeding is a problem, in which case cut the flowerstalks off at ground level after the florets have faded. Although cutting fresh flowerstalks for bouquets isn't advisable (see "Downsides," below), dried stems might not release as disturbing a concentration of garlicky "fragrance" and, so, could be part of a dried bouquet. This would also eliminate the species' propensity to self-seed.

 

Clean-up of spent foliage is usually not necessary. Bulbs are best sited behind or amid plants with Spring growth that is either shorter, or develops more slowly than that of Nectaroscordum, maturing at anywhere from twelve to thirty inches high. Either ploy will keep the quick-to-fade Nectaroscordum foliage hidden. For suggestions, see "Plant partners" above. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

Although Nectaroscordum seems to persist year after year without needing attention, if it's part of a display that is changed seasonally, it might be easiest to lift the Nectaroscordum clumps right along with the, say, tulips, replanting them in early Fall (along with a fresh crop of tulips) after the bed's Summer "turn" is completed. Will dividing the Nectaroscordum clumps and replanting as individual bulbs enhance or impair next season's flowering? Let me know.

Quirks and special cases

Each Nectaroscordum flowerstalk seems to have a mind of its own: Some remain bolt upright, others lean, still others find partial support amid nearby plant partners, and regain their upward trajectory only for their final foot or so. Because the stems are leafless, it can be impossible to provide support yielding a uniform verticality across all the stems in a colony that doesn't look gracelessly obvious and even disciplinary. If your goal is the phalanx of vertical stems topped by identical flower heads, grow any of the Allium giganteum cultivars. With Nectaroscordum, irregularity is intrinsic. Adjust your aesthetics instead of the flower stems.  

Downsides

Nectaroscordum is said to self-seed prolifically if not dead-headed; I haven't noticed this in my own garden and would welcome it. 

 

All parts of the plant give off a garlicky odor, especially if bruised. Unless my nose is seriously off, even the flowers' fragrance is garlicky. If your colony is large enough, and the day is warm and the air still, you'll smell the plants just when walking by. Because the odor is even more penetrating when any portion of Nectaroscordum is damaged, let alone cut outright, the flower stems would be olfactorily offensive if harvested for a bouquet. Enjoy the blossoms only on the hoof, as it were: in the garden. 

 

You could, though, try harvesting flower stems after they have dried and their odor is just about dispersed. The now-vertical pedicels, each topped with a seedhead sporting a jaunty tan conical hat, are delightful.

 

See "Where to use it" and "Plant partners," above, for suggestions on where and how to incorporate this unusual species into your garden's layout and amid its many other distinctive plants.

Variants

The florets of Allium siculum ssp. dioscoridis are a festival of subtleties that are dramatically different from the straight species. The outside of the tepals is brown-olive-dark rose tipped with white. As the blossoms open, that color lightens substantially, to pale rose and light olive, while the interior becomes white with a blush of rose down the center of each tepal. I'd love to know of a source!

Availability

Online and occasionally at retainers. 

Propagation

Easy! In late Summer or early Fall, lift clumps, separate the bulbs, and replant. This bulbs' reputation for self-seeding suggests that the seed heads could be gathered and scattered on open ground where you'd like new colonies to form. First cover the soil surface with loose gravel, which provides plentiful cracks and crannies that will help the pods stay in place while also lessening their chances of being eaten by garlic-loving browsers. 

Native habitat

All forms of Nectaroscordum siculum are native to Europe and the Near East. N. siculum is native to European countries bordering the Mediterranean as well as Romania. Allium siculum ssp. dioscoridis is native to eastern Romania, Bulgaria, Crimea, and western Turkey.

 
 
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