Alliums are members of the onion family, but don't worry about smell; they give off only a slight aroma when the stems are cut or crushed.
The flower heads range in size from an inch to a foot, depending on the variety grown. They help to fill the gap between the blooms of the early crocuses and daffodils and the arrival of the later flowers. If cut early, the flowers will last up to three weeks in water, or they can be left on the stalk to dry. They're known to attract butterflies and resist deer, mice and chipmunks. Flowers bloom with a dramatic burst of color in the spring.
There are many varieties of this flower garden standard available. Here are some favorites:
These clear, true blue flower heads, about an inch in diameter, sit atop 12-18 inch stems. They are often grown among lower growing perennials such as candytuft.
The huge flowerheads are up to a foot in diameter. They are amethyst in color and are striking in a cut arrangement. Try growing them among foliage plants such as hostas and lamb's ear.
The large, tightly formed flower heads (shown above) top stems that grow to 40 inches or more. Fowerheads can be up to six inches across and are purple in color. Grow them among perennials that will hide the foliage, which begins to brown just as the plant blooms.
A. hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'
Four inch round flowerheads sit atop 20 to 30 inch stems. The violet-purple blooms appear in late spring.
These 10-12 inch plants sport yellow, star-like flowers in late spring and early summer.
Edible Alliums in the Flower Bed
Two varieties of chives normally confined to the herb garden make great choices for flower borders. Common chives (Allium schoenoprasum) has grasslike foliage and bright violet flowers. The cultivar 'Forcaste' bears rose pink flowers on shorter (18-inch) and neater plants.
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) has 2" to 3" white globes with a scent of rose on two foot stems. The attractive foliage is dark green and straplike. The plants grow in dense clumps and the flowers should be cut before seeds are set to prevent the plant becoming weedy.
Most varieties do well in zones four to eight.
- Alliums prefer well drained neutral or alkaline soil.
- Mix a good bulb fertilizer or bone meal into the soil before planting or apply fertilizer as soon a new growth appears.
- They will need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
- Plant the bulbs 4" deep in early to late fall.
- Plant in groups of 3-5 bulbs for the best show.
- Mulch generously in areas that receive frost and snow.
- Plant tall varieties in a well protected spot. Because they have a large, heavy head on tall stems, they are easily blown over.
- The foliage dies during or immediately after the bloom period which can lead to gaps in the garden. This can be prevented by planting alliums with other perennials.
- Some good companion plants for alliums are ranunculus, anemone, peony and petunia. Allium foliage begins to wither when the flowers begin to bloom, but this is easily concealed by interplanting with dense foliage plants.
Read more details about Alliums.