Alliums are dramatic, elegant and tough. These easy-to-grow members of the onion family offer varieties small, tall and sizes in between. They are not appealing to deer, squirrels, chipmunks or other garden marauders, but are often favorites of gardeners like me. Here are just a few to look for when shopping for bulbs this fall.
Allium flavum, commonly called yellow allium, is a cutie with petite and pendulous yellow flowers on stems growing from one to two feet tall. It is ideal for sunny rock gardens where bees and other pollinators stop by often for a sip of nectar.
Allium caeruleum, called blue or azure allium, is a must have for gardeners who long for true blue flowers in their gardens. Small globes of tiny clear blue flowers top eighteen inch stems about the same time as peonies bloom. Imagine them blooming with Sarah Bernhardt’s fully-double, pastel pink flowers – spectacular, right?
Allium christophii, commonly called Star of Persia, boasts huge perfectly round, 10-inch balls of loosely-held flowers on short stems. How about this allium paired with white Oriental poppies?
Allium giganteum is a giant of the allium family, growing 3 to 5 feet tall. Stunning violet-purple softball-sized orbs of flowers demand attention in late spring. Plant a few groups of these in the perennial border to add some pops of color above other plants.
Allium ‘Globemaster’ is similar to A. giganteum except its flowers are a little larger, bluer, and bloom in mid-June. Picture A. ‘Globemaster’ skirted with catmint.
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ is a beauty. Its reddish-purple globes of tightly-packed flowers bloom at the top of 24 to 30 inch stems in early June. This beauty is stunning partnered with silver-foliaged companions like lamb’s ears or Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’.
I’m going to add Schubert alliums (Allium schubertii) to my landscape this year. It is short in stature – just 8 to 12 inches tall – but its flowers stop folks in their tracks. Huge heads of flowers look like fireworks!
Drumstick alliums, botanically named Allium sphaerocephalon, begin blooming in late June or early July and show off wine-red oval-shaped flower clusters on stems that sway in summer breezes or lean toward the sun. They grow 24 to 30 inches tall and are beautiful planted with coneflowers.
There are a few white-flowering alliums. A. ‘Mount Everest’ grows 3 feet tall. A. ‘Ivory Queen’ doesn’t even reach a foot. Plant these in front of a dark-colored background. Summer Wine ninebark (Physocarpus ‘Summer Wine’) would be a beautiful backdrop for A. ‘Mount Everest’. A. ‘Ivory Queen’ would be fabulous growing beside Obsidian coral bells (Heuchera ‘Obsidian’).
Alliums add a distinctive style to the late spring or summer landscape. They add drama as buds rise on sturdy stems; their flowers contribute color for an extended period; and their seed heads continue to add interest all summer. They don’t take up much room so everyone can fit some in between established perennials or in shrub borders.
Plant allium bulbs in the fall. They are not fussy about the soil they grow in, as long it is not soggy. They prefer full sun, but they grow just fine in the shade cast by deciduous trees in my yard.
Allium bulbs, especially the larger types, can cost upwards of $10 per bulb but they are totally worth the money. Purchase as many as you can afford and then let them multiply in your garden. If you don’t have some already, this is the year to put allium at the top of your bulbs shopping list. If you are already a believer in the virtues of alliums, it’s time to add some more. Garden with me!