This is the story of an onion that will bring you to tears, but not for the reason you probably think. It’s called an allium, a bonafide member of the onion family, that you’ll crave for your garden, not for your plate. Each spring, it explodes in fireworks of blooms, rivaling anything you’d blast into the sky onFourth of July and accidentally set fire to your neighbor’s lawn.
So why do so few people plant it?
Grumpy guesses it’s either because they can’t slice it for burgers or they find it so beautiful, they surmise it must be a pain-in-the-tush to grow. Neither is true. Most alliums are easier to grow than those big, gaudy tulips that disappoint you every year. They thrive from the Upper South (Zone 6) to the Coastal South (Zone 9A). They come back year after year and those stinking deer and voles won’t touch them.
Although some alliums bloom in summer, most bloom in spring. Of the spring-bloomers, three types make up the lion’s share of what Grumpians plant every year — Allium aflatuenense, A. giganteum, and A. ‘Globemaster’ (pictured above and right). They’re all about the same purple color, but the blooms vary in size. The first sports rounded blooms the size of tennis balls; the second, the size of softballs; and the third, the size of Mars (not really — more like volleyballs). The blooms stand tall on sturdy stems from 2 to 5 feet tall and make spectabulous cut flowers.
But hey — what if you one of those weirdo people who just can’t stand the color purple? Then complain to Oprah Winfrey, not the Grump.
Oh — wait a minute. We’re talking actual colors here, not movies. Well, fortunately, you can find alliums that are various shades of pink, rose, red, blue, and yellow. White too. Of course, not all are the size of Mars or even Kanye West’s ego.
Here is one I like — Allium stipatatum ‘White Giant.’ This late spring bloomer stands 36 to 48 inches tall and produces blossoms 6 to 8 inches wide. Each little floret making up the ball has a tiny black eye (probably from an argument with Kanye West).
Time to Plant
Now is the time to get these bulbs into the ground. Look for them at your local garden or home center. If you can’t find them, two excellent mail-order sources are Van Engelen (who generously donated these photos) and John Scheepers.
Plant the bulbs 6 to 8 inches deep and 8 to 10 inches apart in fertile, well-drained soil. Give them full sun. Combining them with later-blooming perennials helps hide the foliage that often starts to die back before blooming finishes.
Don’t cut down the spent flowers of these mega-bloomers! Let the flowers dry on the stems for several weeks until they turn brown. The star-shaped seedheads look like sparklers and are perfect for dried flower arrangements.