An allium experiment

Judith Adam

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Allium 'Purple Sensation' (Photo by Heather Hayden)

The article on ornamental alliums in the fall issue of Garden Making (written by my colleague, Stephen Westcott-Gratton) reminds me to add these beautiful onions to my list of bulbs to be purchased. There can never be too many lovely purple globes dancing in my garden, and I enjoy the allium festival from May through early June.

Allium 'Purple Sensation' (Photo by Heather Hayden)
‘Purple Sensation’ allium (Photo by Heather Hayden)

Years ago I planted several dozen ‘Purple Sensation’ allium (Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’, Zone 3) and they’ve been terrific repeaters, returning in full numbers with no noticeable decrease in size. Many ornamental onions are mauve to purple, but ‘Purple Sensation’ is definitely brighter and bolder than the others. They’re so reasonably priced that I can indulge myself and get more this year. They look good in generous clusters on a windy day, like bobbing heads at a rock concert.

I’ve also grown the larger and taller ‘Globemaster’ and ‘Lucille Ball’ (both Zone 4), and these seem to look best in groups of three. Any more, and they would be overpowering (and expensive). Although tall alliums (up to 40 inches / 100 cm) sway in the wind, their stiff stems never require staking. Three grouped together in a perennial bed make a strong vertical accent, and the attractive dried globes remain for weeks after the flowers fade.

The allium I most covet is the star of Persia (A. christophii, Zone 4), a striking iridescent globe of stylized silver-mauve florets on relatively short stems, about 18 inches (45 cm) tall. The flowerheads can reach 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter when grown in full sun, and even just one is quite spectacular. Their short height might suit my big stone container out front, and if I can find the bulbs, I’ll experiment with three or four in there and hope they make it through the winter. My garden is in Zone 6, and the bulbs have a Zone 4 hardiness rating, but the container is large—I think they might be okay, even if out of the ground. I plan to surround them with early pansies and violas. That’s a spring image to get me through the coming cold months.

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