Alliums All Over
Alliums in the Garden
These out-of-the-ordinary bulbs tend to have the same globelike bloom shape as their onion and garlic cousins do when they’re allowed to go to flower in a vegetable garden. The distinctive purple or white blooms charmingly contrast with many other late-spring favorites, such as spiky hybrid delphiniums, flat-face pinks (Dianthus), dainty bleeding hearts (Dicentra), and frothy lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis). As a bonus, the leaves of most late-spring alliums disappear quickly. You’ll want to pair them with bushy companions, though, so you won’t have gaps in your garden when their foliage disappears. Alliums—especially the tall, white-flower cultivars—pairs especially well with culinary sage (Salvia officinalis). In spring, the alliums pop up easily through the bushy sage clumps, creating a dreamy scene of white clouds hovering over the undulating silver-green mounds. Hostas, daylilies (Hemerocallis), and medium-size ornamental grasses, such as fountaingrass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), also make ideal companions for alliums, providing a follow-up of handsome foliage and flowers for interest later in summer.
Alliums in Arrangements
Although allium flowers are so spectacular in the garden that you might find it hard to cut them to bring indoors, they shine when cut and displayed in individual glass bottles. Singly or combined into bouquets, the freshcut flowers last about two weeks. The flower heads dry readily, too. While the blooms of alliums can be pleasantly fragrant or have no scent, you might notice a slight oniony odor from the just-cut stems; it dissipates quickly, though. Try using aromatic herbs such as mint as fillers for your arrangements, because their sweet or spicy scents will easily mask the mild allium aroma.
Alliums look exotic, but they don’t demand any special care to thrive. In fact, these easy bulbs are anything but fussy, a trait that has endeared them to busy gardeners. They need full sun in spring, but once the leaves die off, the amount of sun doesn’t matter; that makes them an ideal addition to gardens that deciduous trees shade in summer. Alliums can adapt to a wide range of soil conditions, too, as long as their site is not soggy. If you’ve been discouraged about growing other bulbs because of damage by animal pests, you’ll be thrilled to know that animals seldom bother allium flowers or bulbs. The plants aren’t especially bothered by insect pests or diseases, either. And here’s one more reason to give these easycare bulbs a try: Many alliums keep their starburst form even after the flowers fade, drying in place and lasting for weeks or even months. Leave them in the garden as long as their companions hold them up, or collect and display them indoors or out. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, spritz the heads with spray paint. White or purple makes them appear much like fresh blooms; shocking pink, glowing yellow, or rousing red offers a different look and adds a touch of whimsy.
Alliums at a Glance
Alliums (AL-ee-ums), also known as flowering onions or ornamental onions, come in a range of colors and heights with various bloom sizes and flowering times. Here’s a quick guide to some of the best for creating an out-of-this-world display in your late-spring and early-summer garden. Plant the bulbs in fall, before the ground has frozen, at a depth three times the diameter of the bulb. All of these thrive in a site that has well-drained soil and full sun through spring.
Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’: Also listed under A. hollandicum, this popular and relatively inexpensive selection offers baseball-size clusters of purple flowers on stems that reach 24–30 inches tall. Zones 4–8
Ambassador Allium: The rich violet, softball-size globes bloom slightly later than those of other purple hybrids, atop extra-sturdy, 3- to 4-foot-tall stems. Zones 4–8
Allium ‘Globemaster’: This hybrid is one of the largestflower alliums, with bloom clusters about the size of a soccer ball on 3-foot-tall stems. Zones 5–10
Allium cristophii: Also sold as A. christophii or A. albopilosum, this species bears softball- to soccer-ballsize spheres of silvery-purple stars atop 1- to 2-foot-tall stems. Zones 4–8
Allium karataviense: This showy species produces pink-tinge, baseball-size blooms just 6–8 inches above the ground. Zones 4–9
Allium karataviense ‘Ivory Queen’: Like its species, ‘Ivory Queen’ is low-growing and blooms over broad, ribbed leaves, but its globes are white. Zones 4–9
Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’: The baseball-size, bright white spheres of ‘Mount Everest’ bloom atop 30- to 40-inch-tall stems. Zones 3–8
Allium stipitatum ‘White Giant’: ‘White Giant’ is similar to ‘Mount Everest’ but has larger globes on taller stems (to about 4 feet). Zones 5–8
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