Allium Christophii, sometimes called the Star of Persia, is one of the most spectacular members of the allium family. Its flower head is less densely packed than most but this is more than made up for by the perfection of its star-shaped pink-purple blooms which generally appear in June. (Actually I have no idea why I say that; in 2014 they were out in May and in 2012 and 2013 they were held back by the spring and flowered in July. So take June as an average...).
Whenever it flowers however, Allium Christophii is a joy to behold it is certainly one of the most noticeable members of our wide range of allium bulbs.
As its nickname suggests, the Star of Persia's individual flowers create a star like effect as they surround a green-jewelled centre - it is probably this characteristic that earned it an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Each flower is made up of five long delicate thin petals which looked at end-on make the shape of a star. As some umbel heads can contain up to 80 individual star-shaped flowers you could say that Allium Christophii is a starburst of stars.
The pompom-esque umbels are often described as looking like fireworks, with the large heads being as much as 8 inches wide. And when the flowers have passed they are followed by attractive seed heads.
This is a shorter variety of allium (with 60cm stems), and it tends to flowers slightly later than most other alliums producing colour when its cousins have finished blooming. It is best planted between other herbaceous plants, as its grey/green strap shaped leaves wither before it flowers.
Christophii is ideal for informal gardens, but because it takes up very little space it works well in flower borders and beds as well as in gravel or rock gardens. Allowed to naturalise and self-seed, they will grow in impressive clumps.
Allium Christophii has many names and is one of the oldest specimen alliums. First collected in Persia by the Russian diplomat Bode, it was originally named Allium bodeanum after him. It now takes its name from the first herbarium specimen which was collected by Eugenius Johann Christoph Esper, a German entomologist in 1883.
It can also be referred to as allium albopilosum, after the fringe of white hairs that appear on the edges of its leaves. As well as attracting bees, butterflies and birds, it offers interest outside the garden, as it is brilliant both as a fresh cut flower and in dried flower arrangements.