Spring Onions

There are three patches of spring-blooming ornamental onions, or Alliums, in our garden.

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The oldest is a patch of ‘Purple Sensation’ in the back garden.

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Last weekend they were approaching their peak of bloom.

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I’ve been surprised by how ‘Purple Sensation’ has been fruitful and multiplied in our shady back garden. From an initial planting of 25 bulbs, they have spread to fill almost the entire bed.

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Spring-blooming Alliums are ephemeral, so you need a companion plant that will fill in after the Alliums have faded away. In the back garden I’ve tried False Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera macrophylla) for this purpose, with mixed results.

On the one hand, the little blue flowers poking up through the Allium foliage are sweet without a doubt. On the other hand, the Brunnera doesn’t really thrive because it is shaded by the Alliums, so it doesn’t get dense enough to be an effective groundcover.

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This is looking into the back garden from the entrance. You can see we’re also using ‘Snow Swan’ Peonies as companions for the Alliums (there’s three, one of them at the bottom center of the picture.

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Last fall I planted a second patch of 25 bulbs, also ‘Purple Sensation’, just north of the ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple in the front garden.

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They seem to be happy in their new home! This patch gets a lot more sun. We’ll see if it spreads like the one in back.

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For this clump of Alliums I seem to have stumbled upon an excellent companion, already present in this bed: Starry Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina stellata).

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Starry Solomon’s Seal blooms at the same time as ‘Purple Sensation’. It spreads by rhizomes, but is not difficult to remove. It’s tall enough so that it doesn’t get smothered by the Allium leaves, but not so tall that it shades out the Alliums.

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Pulling back a bit, here’s a picture of ‘Purple Sensation’ surrounded by Starry Solomon’s Seal. Oh, and Starry Solomon Seal is a Midwest native (unlike ‘Purple Sensation’).

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Finally, there is a clump of Allium ‘Globemaster’ growing in the Parkway Bed.

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This patch started from five bulbs that I planted years ago. It has spread, but not nearly as fast as ‘Purple Sensation’. However, the size of the flowers has declined as the bulbs have reproduced.

‘Globemaster’ flower heads are supposed to be up to 10″ wide. Not sure if mine were ever that big, but they are less than half that now. Judy says she doesn’t mind, though.

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Here’s a picture of the Parkway Bed with ‘Globemaster’ in bloom.

I’m very fond of our spring-blooming Alliums, but lately I’ve become even more enthusiastic about the Alliums that bloom in summer. However, that is a subject for another post.

Do you grow spring-blooming Alliums? Do you find that they tolerate shade? What kind of companion plants do you use?

56 Comments on “Spring Onions

  1. Hi!
    I’m a new gardener and follower of your blog!
    My husband and I live in Jefferson Park and are doing all we can with limited land and budget 🙂
    Is that geranium in front of the parkway alliums? What kind?
    Thanks for all the inspiration!
    Carolyn

    • Hi Carolyn! Yes, that is a geranium, specifically Geranium maculatum or Wild Geranium, a Midwest Native. Very easy go grow, prefers some shade.

  2. Interesting post Jason; Most Alliums here put up their leaves first, then the leaves die back before the flower so I wouldn’t have the same problems as you but it is a bit too dry for most Alliums anyway; I have success with A. christophii and drumstick.

  3. I’ve never tried my alliums in the shade, but seeing your photos, it might be worth a try. Do you allow yours to seed around or are they multiplying underground, whatever it is, they are wonderful!

    • I allow them to seed and they are making offsets underground as well. They are growing in light shade, still they are thriving.

  4. All of my Alliums are growing in plenty of sun. I’ve never seen any that produce globes as big as the ones the catalogs brag about. Companions for bulbs whose foliage fades are always a challenge.

  5. My neighbor grows Allium through Wild Geranium–a stunning combination.

  6. I love alliums. I just recently got some to grow and multiply. I don’t know what variety they are. I don’t know if I thought they wouldn’t live so I didn’t keep the tags or if I just lost the tag that would tell me the name of the alliums. Anyway, I only planted three of them and this spring they had 9 bloom heads. I too think they are getting a bit smaller. Mine don’t get a lot of sun. I wonder if you should lift them divide them and feed them. Maybe they would get big again.??? I have another type of allium ‘Nectaoscordum’. It doesn’t look like an Allium at all but the bees don’t care they go to it and it is hardy. It has also reproduced. It makes a great cut flower which I found out quite by accident. I weedwacked a couple of them and they lasted in a vase for over two weeks.

  7. Your alliums look very at home and all three patches work very well with their companions. I have a square block of alliums (Purple Sensation and Cristophii) in a brick planter which I meant to dig up and plant throughout our back wall border last year but forgot, so they’re still there and about to flower. They get sun and shade. I have a drift of A.sphaerocephalon in bud and I can’t wait to see how that looks. You’ve reminded me that I should buy some more!

  8. The alliums look great and your garden in general is looking excellent – green, lush and full of plants.

    At least in my neck of the woods, many ‘gardens’ consist of a few plants in a sea of mulch, but I much prefer your style of filling the beds with plants. Plus, it’s so much easier to cut down on weeding (or mulching) when there’s less bare space! 🙂

  9. I really like alliums, but must confess that they don’t seem to like me. For whatever reasons, I plant them and don’t get anywhere near 100% growth. Those that do come up often don’t return and they don’t multiply like I see in your garden. I’m going to keep trying because they are so lovely in spring. My favorite is christophii, which has come back fairly reliably.

      • I can’t (won’t) change climates…and the change is apparently going in the other direction…so I’ll just have to keep trying.

  10. Great photos! I don’t grow alliums, but I sure do enjoy looking at yours.

  11. Like Johnvic8 above, I have had no luck with alliums returning and multiplying. I’ve tried them in dry spots and in damper ones, in sun and in shade. They bloom well the first year, then disappear over the next year or two. Very disappointing.

  12. What a pretty sight. Love them. I have some that look like space aliens but can’t remember what I ordered last year!

  13. I’ve had spotty luck with Alliums, but your report on ‘Purple Sensation’ has me thinking of trying those next. The Gladiators, new this spring, bloomed nicely, but need taller ground cover than the Carex to hide unattractive foliage, so taller grasses are coming next. Your Alliums could start a fad…sort of like what you have done for tulips.

  14. You are not alone in having some issues with Globemaster alliums. I haven’t had much luck getting them to multiply in my southeastern PA garden. I wonder if it is a hardiness issue.

  15. I hope my purple sensation spread as fast as yours, I just love them, a simply gorgeous flower! I do like your companion planting too.xxx

  16. Nice! Wow, your back garden in that first photo is stunningly beautiful. I had large Alliums at my old garden years ago, but I didn’t think they’d get enough sun here. I do have a couple of patches of Drumstick Alliums in my small sunny garden that bloom in early summer. And then last fall I started an experiment with summer-blooming Alliums in partial shade. We shall see how they do. Looks like they’re performing well for you in both sun and shade. 🙂

  17. What a great display. Alliums are such useful May plants. I love Purple Sensation but it never seeds around here. The only ones to do that are the weedy ones that you wish you had never planted.

  18. I have never grown them but you are tempting me. I think my chive blossoms are gorgeous, so I easily could go overboard with these.

  19. I love the darker color of the purple sensation. I was just looking at what I think is globemaster and thought the color looked a little washed out even though I love its extra height (mine are also much smaller than ten inches and were never that big even when first planted).
    My summer ones should probably be divided now, I’ve got them way too close together but they survive anyway and I don’t mind avoiding that chore 🙂

  20. Hello Jason, I definitely miss the Alliums that we had in our previous garden, Allium Christophii, with it’s metallic-lilac flowers, it was a real stunner and self-seeded like crazy. I’ll be introducing these to the new garden this autumn. It’s just a shame that they peter out after a few years and need “topping up”.

  21. I have a single giant mystery allium that blooms every spring that I don’t remember planting. It hasn’t self seeded although I wish it would. Our other onions are just the wild onions and I pull them whenever I can. Aster divaricatus would be a great groundcover in your shady site. It’s native and attracts pollinators when it blooms in the fall. Your spring garden is just beautiful!! I really love that first picture. 🙂

    • I’ve tried to grow Aster divariticus but for some reason it hasn’t done well for me. May give it another try, though.

  22. Your ‘Purple Sensation’ alliums are sensational! I re-invigorated my ‘Globemaster’ clump this year by adding three new bulbs in the fall. The flowers are now big and tall and just starting to open.

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