These flowers may taste as good as they look, and chances are you've eaten one before.
About 400 species of alliums exist. The best-known are edible varieties, which include onions, shallots, leeks, chives, and garlic. While their savory cousins excel in the kitchen, ornamental alliums, like the Allium giganteum, shine in the perennial border. Their bold and unusual blooms adorn gardens from mid-spring through midsummer.
Although most alliums bloom in shades of purple, some varieties bear flowers of blue, pink, yellow, or white. The flower heads generally are globe-shaped and range in diameter from 3 to 12 inches. Alliums come in all heights, from 4 inches to 4 feet. Many alliums hold their bloom for as long as a month, which makes them a sought-after perennial. Some varieties are great naturalizers and will spread generously if allowed to do so.
Learn more about other beautiful bulbs, including:
Latin Name: Allium christophii Common Name: Stars-of-Persia Zone: 4-9 Description: The late-spring blooms of the Stars-of-Persia grow on sturdy stalks to heights of 2-1/2 feet. Their flower heads are 8- to 12-inch bursts of silvery lavender florets. The heads are excellent for drying.
Latin Name: Allium giganteum Common Name: Giant allium Zone: 5-8 Description: Sporting magnificent softball-sized flower heads, regal 4-foot-tall giant alliums are most attractive when planted in groups of three or four bulbs spaced about 1-1/2 feet apart. Adding color and height, their spectacular blooms rise high above other plants on leafless stalks. Appearing in June or July, giant alliums are excellent cutting flowers. Cut a few for dried bouquets before the flowers fade. Hang long stalks, heads down, in a dark, well-ventilated place until dry. To keep colors bright, place bouquets away from sunlight.
Latin Name: Allium karataviense Common Name: Turkestan onion Zone: 4-8 Description: For a shorter allium to tuck into a rock garden or front border, try the 6- to 10-inch-tall Allium karataviense. The reddish-white blooms are 5/8 inch wide and contrast nicely in a border planting with other late-spring bloomers. They do equally well in pots.
Latin Name: Allium moly Common Name: Golden garlic, lily leek Zone: 3-8 Description: Short and sweet, 12-inch golden garlic requires strong morning sun. It spreads rapidly. Small yellow blooms grace their stems in May and June. A good choice for naturalizing.
Latin Name: Allium neapolitanum Common Name: Daffodil garlic, flowering onion Zone: 7-9 Description: The fragrant, 2- to 3-inch-wide snow-white bloom clusters of the daffodil garlic allium prefer warmer climates. These spring bloomers require full sun and grow to 14 inches tall. They excel planted in containers. Try a mixture of same-size Allium neapolitanum and Allium moly for a yellow-and-white color combination.
Latin Name: Allium oreophilum Zone: 4-7 Description: The airy pinkish-purple blooms of Allium oreophilum appear in late spring on diminutive plants that grow only 4 inches tall. Requiring full sun, these long-lasting alliums are ideal tucked into a rock garden or in the front of a perennial border.
Latin Name: Allium rosenbachianum Common Name: Rosenbach onion Zone: 5-8 Description: Cousins to onions, alliums often carry the family name and live up to it. Rosenbach onions release a pungent aroma when cut. Deep violet flower heads measure 5 inches across and grow on 2-foot leafless stems. These midsummer bloomers hold their form and color for 3 to 4 weeks and are excellent for both fresh and dried bouquets.
Latin Name: Allium schoenoprasum Common Name: Chive Zone: 3-9 Description: An ornamental and edible allium, the chive does double duty in the flower and kitchen garden. Both the flowers and the foliage of chives are as beautiful as they are tasty. Dainty purple-pink flower heads borne on grasslike foliage appear in summer.
Latin Name: Allium sphaerocephalum Common Name: Drumstick allium, round-headed garlic Zone: 5-9 Description: Swaying in a breezy orbit 2 feet above the earth, the 1-inch reddish-purple bloom clusters of drumstick allium are an excellent addition to midsummer borders. Eager to naturalize, stunning in a bouquet, and superb as a dried flower, they are a versatile allium.
Latin Name: Allium ursinum Common Name: Bear's garlic, ramsons Zone: 4-9 Description: Waking from hibernation in summer, bear's garlic creates an uproar with its 2-inch white blossoms. Mass these 18-inch-tall jewels at the edge of a perennial border.
How to Plant and Care for Allium
Location: Full sun to part shade
(At least six hours of sunlight) When to plant: Fall
General Instructions: Because alliums sport heavy blooms on long stems, they do best in borders protected from strong winds. While alliums do well in ordinary garden soil, lightly improving soil fertility and drainage with organic matter at planting will greatly enhance flower production. As a general rule, plant the bulbs two times deeper than their diameter (for example, plant a 2-inch bulb 4 inches deep).
Allow 4 to 12 inches between bulbs (less for smaller alliums, more for larger bulbs). For the smallest bulbs, plant in clusters of a dozen or more. After planting, water deeply. To insulate the bulbs in winter, cover the bed with a inch-thick mulch of leaves or straw. Deer and rodents usually avoid disturbing allium bulbs.