2018 Perennial Plant of the Year: Allium ‘Millenium’

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The 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year as it might appear in a yard. Allium 'Millenium' has very attractive leaves and flowers.
Allium ‘Millenium’ has very attractive leaves and flowers, as you can see.
Photo provided by Walters Gardens, Inc.

I hope this particular variety will be only the beginning for you if you’ve never tried the ornamental alliums before. There are many more, and in fact, I wish I could tell you just how many. Right now, it’s not possible to be very certain. When Linnaeus formally described the genus Allium in his book Species of Plants in 1753, there were 30 species. He thought no genus should have more than 100.

That was then.

Recent estimates of the number of Allium species range around 800 to 900. If you’d like to get a doctorate and you’re willing to do a lot of frustrating research, perhaps you can help settle the question.

During the 1980s and 90s, plantsman, architect, and computer-aided design specialist Mark McDonough bred Alliums in Massachusetts. Note that he says Allium with a short a, not a long vowel sound. The pronunciation is the same in American and British English. In 2000, he introduced this variety, which experience has shown to be a great performer over the entire country.

Some Alliums perform too well–they become invasive, that is–so all gardeners should realize there’s a difference between a plant that has vigor and another that might take over completely like a horde of invading Mongols. With Alliums, spreading by seed can sometimes become a serious problem. According to its introducer, ‘Millenium’ exhibits 50% reduced seed production, which makes self-sown seedlings far less of a concern.

'Summer Beauty' is a similar plant but a lighter shade and entirely sterile flowers. This means you won't have seedlings. As a selection of Allium angulosum, it differs from ‘Millenium’ in its background.
‘Summer Beauty’ is a similar plant but a lighter shade and entirely sterile flowers. This means you won’t have seedlings. As a selection of Allium angulosum, it differs from ‘Millenium’ in its background.

On the other hand are the organisms in decline that ought to be a concern to all of us: pollinators. And how does Allium ‘Millenium’ fit in? Like its predecessor, this perennial has flowers loved by bees and butterflies, so in addition to the color they’ll attract plenty of buzz and flutter and hum.

In case you think of Alliums as ho-hum, check out “Ornamental Alliums” by Carole Ottesen in the September/October 2014 issue of The American Gardener, which is an excellent resource. She focuses on the bulbous kinds, however, and make sure you don’t take away the impression that most peak in late spring. There are Alliums for spring, summer, and fall.

A color lithograph of several Allium species from The Ladies' Flower Garden of Ornamental Bulbous Plants by Jane Loudon (1841). Since her husband John was among the foremost botanists of his time, this 500-page book was a venerable reference. It still has value, although over the years many names have changed. Starting clockwise from the white one at the top, the species are Allium neapolitanum, bisculum, gramineum, moly, longifolium, triquetrum, and caeruleum at center.
Several Allium species from The Ladies’ Flower Garden of Ornamental Bulbous Plants by Jane Loudon (1841). Since her husband John was among the foremost botanists of his time, this 500-page book was a venerable reference. It still has value, although over the years many names have changed. Starting clockwise from the white one at the top, the species are Allium neapolitanum, bisculum, gramineum, moly, longifolium, triquetrum, and caeruleum at center.

If perhaps you’d like to find out more, there are two books you can investigate or buy (and help support this web site if you do). The first is Alliums: The Ornamental Onions published in 1992 by Timber Press. At 168 pages, this overview covers the topic well enough for most gardeners, and I know your enthusiasm will grow once you read it.

There’s another book that’s both bigger and more technical. Published by Great Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry in 2015, Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and The Science has been described as “an impressive compendium of answers to any question you might have, from health benefits of onion family vegetables to allelopathy, as well as a professional-level look into the chemistry, including diagrams of molecules and reactions.” In case you have lingering doubts, check out this review.

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