In the Garden:
Upper South
October, 2013
Regional Report

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The combination of alliums 'Purple Sensation' and 'Globemaster' with 'Amazone' phlomis is a study of textures and forms.

Plant Ornamental Onions

Perhaps you've looked at the photos of the large ornamental onions on the bulb packages or in the catalogs and wondered if they were for real. And surely the description is just so much catalog hyperbole? Fortunately, this is one of those times when you can really believe what you read. Distant cousins of garlic, these alliums are sometimes called ornamental garlic or flowering onion. While these names convey the allium's bulbous nature and familial scent, they fall short in communicating the exuberant good looks of this sophisticated plant group.

Although there are several hundred species of allium, only several dozen are grown in gardens. Best known are the taller alliums, with their long, sturdy, 2- to 3-foot-tall stems and signature dense puffball-like heads of purple flowers, which can range from 4 to 12 inches across. These taller alliums excel in the garden as elegant vertical accents with architectural interest. 'Globemaster' and 'Purple Sensation' are two popular varieties. For an allium that resembles lavender-blue fireworks, try Allium albopilosum, also known as Allium christophii or Star of Persia.

There are also lesser known, more subtle alliums. These low-growing bulbs reach only 8 to 14 inches tall and have widely varied forms and flowers. Where purplish shades dominate among the larger types, the low growers sport flowers of white, yellow, pink, lavender, or ivory.

Ornamental alliums grow best in well-drained soil but they survive in a wide range of soils. Choose a spot with full sun or light shade. Plant at a depth twice the diameter of the bulb, in loose clusters of five, seven, or more and spaced generously, as most will perennialize to form large and beautiful clumps over time. Alliums are the last of the spring-flowering bulbs to bloom, usually from May through July. They make great cut flowers, and the large-flowered types dry beautifully.

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