As you’re shopping this fall for new spring bulbs, don’t forget the onions!
Well, not really, but close. There’s a member of the onion family that in late spring and early summer produces flowers that are so cool they’ll bring tears to your eyes: Alliums.
Allium, the Latin for garlic, is a genus of plants that include edibles like onions, garlic, chives and leeks.
And while their ornamental species produce that characteristic faint odor as well, it’s their eye-popping flowers that gardeners covet. In spring, the bulbs send up leafless scapes, or strong stalks, reaching two or three feet tall, which blossom into globe-like flowers – some varieties, such as ‘Globemaster,’ as large as 8 to 10 inches in diameter!
Because of their dramatic structure, alliums make great border plants, focal points and — needless to say — knock-out cut flowers. Their flowers, called umbrels, are densely packed with tiny florets and range widely in color and size — rich purples, such as the award-winning ‘Purple Sensation’; white (‘Mont Blanc’); blue (Allium caeruleum); and the yellow (A. flavum).
Three of the most popular are the giant ‘Globemaster,’ Gladiator’ and ‘Beau Regard’ cultivars. And a side benefit of all that color and scent is they attract butterflies.
Most alliums are native to Asia and prefer sunny locations and well-drained soil — like most bulbs, they won’t tolerate wet feet.
Plant these perennials in fall, along with other spring bloomers like daffodils. Their hardiness depends on the species and cultivar. In Georgia, for example, most alliums, especially the large-flowering hybrids, will last only two to three years. Others, such as the small one-inch egg-shaped ‘Drumsticks’ (Sphaerocephalon allium ‘Drumsticks’), which flowers later than most alliums, are standouts for the Southeast.