Thursday, 2 June 2011

Ornamental Onions...

How well do you know your onions?
With over 500 different species and many more cultivated varieties it is unlikely any of us will have intimate knowledge of them all. But, the ‘Alliums,’ as the group is more scientifically known contain quite a few plants we will be familiar with. 

No kitchen, or indeed kitchen garden would be complete without onions and leeks of course, stalwarts of a huge range of recipes. The slightly more adventurous chef and gardener might also be sprinkling in some home grown chives to mildly flavour a meal or crushing the much more pungent garlic cloves into the mix. 

Back out in the garden, battle may be done with that attractive native flower and pernicious weed, wild garlic. But, between those fully edible, vegetable plot favourites and the downright weedy, there’s a wide selection of ornamental onions good enough to grace the finest of gardens.
Ordinary onions and leeks, if let go to seed, offer a hint of what can be achieved in their violet purple, golf ball sized flower clusters. But the best of the increasingly popular flower garden Alliums far exceed that...
My own favourite is Allium christophii which produces huge, airy football sized flower heads on top of two foot stems. Like most of the group, these take the form of spherical bursts of colour. Just like mini fireworks frozen in mid explosion, the hundreds of thin wiry flower stems terminate in bright stars. As summer’s heat increases, they fade from violet blue to silvery grey but retain their structure, adding amazing dried flower globes to the border scene.
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ is also superb. In this variety, the round flower heads are about the size of a tennis ball and rise strongly to about three feet in the border. The flowers are dense packed and a deep purple blue.
There are many more lovely forms to choose from, mostly in that violet blue range, but also including the low growing white flowered ‘Allium karataviense’ with broad grey foliage and the bright yellow ‘Allium moly’.
All Alliums grow from bulbs and reliably reappear each year. Although their leaves often die back as they come into flower, these can be easily hidden by skillful planting.
The aroma of these ornamental onions may rule them out for cut flower use indoors, but as part of a border display, they are unsurpassed.

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