Alliums; Now's the time to buy and plant alliums for spring and summer flowers

By Andy McIndoe

Choosing the best Alliums

Now is the time to buy and plant the bulbs of alliums, the ornamental onions.  By now all that remains of last years flowers are the curiously beautiful parchment spherical seedheads. These are made up of the remains of hundreds of tiny capsules releasing black seeds onto the border soil; some of which may grow to bloom in future years. If you grew Alliums last year you will want more, if you have never grown them then your garden is simply not complete.

Alliums enjoy well- drained soil and a sunny position. They are hardy and accommodating and given a favourable spot will perform and multiply as the years go by. If they have a weakness it is their foliage. The leaves of most definitely on the wane as the blooms reach their zenith, take this into account when you plant them. Alliums are accent plants so lend themselves to rising surprisingly like fireworks out of a cloud of soft feathery foliage.

Allium hollandicum
Allium hollandicum is one of the earliest to flower in April and early May. The blooms are pale violet and are borne in hemispherical heads that gradually develop into starry spheres. As the flowers fade, green seedpods swell that are as much of a feature in the border as the flowers. The cultivar Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ has glowing dark purple flowers and is more striking. It is inexpensive to buy so you can afford to sprinkle it liberally through the border. Plant 15cm deep and 20cm apart in small groups. They work particularly well growing among grasses and grey foliage plants and I love them with the perennial wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’

Allium stipitatum ‘Violet Beauty’
Allium stipitatum ‘Violet Beauty’  is similar with lovely violet-purple flowers on 60-25cm (2ft-30ins) stems. It is delightful planted with the sparking white Ornithogalum magnum. You can buy the bulbs together from Living Colour bulbs.

Allium Violet Beauty and Ornithogalum Magnum

Allium cristophii

If you only plant one allium in your garden then it should be Allium cristophii. It starts to flower in late spring and is at its best in early summer. In my experience it is usually around 45cm – 60cm (18ins – 2ft) in height but with exceptionally large, long-lasting flowerheads made up of silvery lilac starry flowers. The effect is just like a mauve sparkler in the border. The common name of this native of Turkey and Iran is “Star of Persia”, a romantic title that sums up its quality. Do not plant the bulbs too close together; remember the size of the flower head.

Allium christophii 2

Allium ‘Globemaster’

Now if it’s big Alliums you want look no further. Allium ‘Globemaster’ is truly ‘King of the Onions’. In early spring glossy strong apple green shoots emerge from the soil that open to succulent rosettes. The emerging bud, like a small greenish white onion, gives no clue as to the ultimate size of the flower. The large spherical head is densely crammed with strong, deep lilac flowers, just like a ball bouncing across the border. The spherical bloom adds long lasting structure in the border and makes a wonderful focal point. Bees love it too and you will find several sleepy bumblebees enjoying the nectar on any warm day,

The bulbs are more expensive; however you will not be disappointed and do not need a lot. Plant three or five bulbs at least 30 cm (1ft) apart for dramatic effect.

Allium 'Globemaster' 2

Allium ‘Ambassador’

Allium ‘Ambassador’ is later flowering; at its dramatic best in midsummer. It’s even bigger than ‘Globemaster’ with deep violet flowerheads of great impact and density. It will grow to at least 90cm (3ft) in height and again bees and butterflies love it. If you’ve got a few alliums already this one is a must to add to your collection.

Allium ‘Mount Everest’

Most alliums come in shades of mauve and purple but there are a few white-flowered varieties. Allium ‘Mount Everest’ is by far the most impressive. Tall 90xm (3ft) stems carry large sparkling white stems. The flowers are not the longest lasting but develop into wonderfully architectural green seedheads which are wonderful for flower arranging. ‘Mount Everest’ is a must in any green and white scheme and adds light height amongst herbaceous perennials.


Nectaroscordum siculum

Nectaroscordum siculum, the “Sicilian Honey Garlic” is an allium with a totally different flower form. This has bell shaped individual flowers in showering heads They are greenish cream, suffused with red-brown and are held aloft on slender stems 60cm-90cm (2ft-3ft) tall. This species can be naturalised in grass on any good garden soil or grown through other later flowering plants. It is a good subject to add for early interest in prairie planting. This is the ultimate bulb to grow in the wildlife friendly garden. The flowers are rich in nectar and magnets for bees and pollinating insects.

Allium sphaerocephalon

Allium sphaerocephalon is an altogether smaller-flowering allium producing drumstick flowerheads on long slender stems. It is a wonderful bulb to plant amongst grasses and perennials and is excellent for cutting. You will find it long lasting in the garden and when cut for the house.

Allium sphaerocephalon

Allium atropurpureum

Finally, one allium you really should not miss is the dark and delicious Allium atropurpureum This produces a head of starry blackcurrant blooms on a slender upright stems that rises elegantly above silver foliage shrubs, lavenders or low perennials. Space the bulbs out for best effect and use at the front of the border to add depth to the planting.

Allium atropurpureum

Alliums take up little room as they grow through or alongside other plants. They fit into and add interest to any garden, however small. Why not take a look at alliums and the rest of the amazing range of flower bulbs offered by Living Colour right now.

Where to buy Alliums Online:
Where to buy bulbs online:  Living Colour bring you the Jacques Amand range of flowerbulbs, Gold Medal winners at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Andy McIndoe

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