The Beautiful Onions of Spring
The genus Allium includes onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, and several dozen ornamental species. All Alliums are alliaceous, which is an excellent word you can hold onto for occasions when you want to impress others with your botanical knowledge. It means they smell like onions.
In our garden we have two ornamental Alliums that bloom in spring. Both are at their peak this weekend.
Out in the front garden we have a clump of the Allium hybrid ‘Globemaster’. ‘Globemaster’ sounds like it could be a character from The Avengers (its superpower: deters deer and rabbits! Actually, that is an important point, deer and rabbits really do not like Alliums).
We started with three ‘Globemaster’ bulbs, and now have a clump of about 18. Alliums like to spread if the conditions are right. Baby Allium bulbs (called bulbils or bulblets) split off from the big bulbs but also are created in the flower clusters and drop to the ground.
As ‘Globemaster’ has spread, it has retained its height (about 3′-4′) but the flowers have become smaller than the original 10″ globes. Probably it’s time to dig them up and replant.
In the back garden, we have A. aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’. This Allium also likes to reproduce – from a handful of bulbs it has created a drift about 6′ long, even though it gets only part sun (full sun is optimal). ‘Purple Sensation’ is shorter and has smaller flower clusters than ‘Globemaster’.
Finding companion plants is an important challenge with spring-blooming Alliums, because the foliage dies back and can leave you with bare ground by summer. Among the ‘Purple Sensation’ bulbs we have Great Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera macrophylla), Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea), and Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii).
Also, last year I planted three ‘White Swan’ Peonies (not yet blooming). In past summers I have been not quite satisfied with the look of this bed after the Alliums were done – but we’ll see how it goes this year.
I certainly do like Alliums, though no one has ever accused me of being an Allium fanatic (as opposed to, say, tulips).
There are also a couple of summer-blooming Alliums in our garden but I will leave those for another day.
Do you grow spring-blooming Alliums? If so, which companion plants do you think work best?