Outrageously ornamental onions

Even though the foxgloves have been outstanding in the Rose Garden and the roses and delphinium have begun to show off, I am still being distracted by allium. But then class clowns are usually pretty distracting. — In the best way. Last year we ordered more ornamental onions than we ever had before and planted most of them in the Rose Garden in an effort to close the May Gap. Success! And now that an abundant June is well under way, we’re still thoroughly enjoying their company.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the firecracker, Allium schubertii (left) was everyone’s favorite. It only stands a foot or so tall but its sparkling personality totally lights up the garden.

Allium ‘Ambassador’, on the other end of the height spectrum with deep purple globes standing nearly 5′ tall, commandeers attention – but does it diplomatically and with great good humor. — They’re like giant grape lollipops. So are ‘Pinball Wizard’ in the North Garden. Those are a little shorter, standing maybe 3′ tall and even with larger pops on top they carry themselves with an elegance that suits that garden perfectly.

Back in the Rose Garden we also planted A. amplectens ‘Graceful Beauty’, a cultivar of North American native narrowleaf onion. It was almost unbearably cute in bud but now that it’s open it’s a little more grown-up looking and perfectly lovely. My other new/old favorite that you’ll see in that garden is A. caeruleum. Its dainty flowertops are the kind of color that painters covet. It’s been a while since I got out my oils but my guess would be a mix of cerulean blue with maybe a smidge of phthalo blue and a tiny dop of titanium white…

We also threw in a handsome couple — deep burgundy purple A. atropurpureum and shimmering A. ‘Silver Spring’ that has a dome of burgundy centered white flowers. A stunning combo (their portrait is in last week’s post about galore-iousness.)

As far as I know there is only one real trick to growing ornamental onions. Like many plants that grow from bulbs, they tend to eventually bear hideous foliage. (A. karataviense is an exceptional exception.) So I believe they’re best tucked into an intensively planted garden where they can grow up through other plants (peonies, lady’s mantle, nepeta…) that will hide their scraggly yellow ground-level leaves. They can be deadheaded when they’re done blooming but we usually leave the big ones standing because they form seedheads every bit as ornamental as the flowers. And even if we take them down after they’ve dried we think they’re too pretty, too weird, too cool to throw away. That’s when we get out the spray paint…

Do you plant ornamental onions? Which are your favorites? I’m early for the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day celebration – head over to May Dreams Gardens tomorrow to see what else is in bloom in June. (Maybe others won’t be as distracted by allium as I have been!)