Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Onion Fever: Ornamental, That Is...

Once I discovered the ornamental onion (Allium) family, I was hooked. Over the years I've grown several cultivars, and would be only too happy to grow more now, if I had the space, sun and budget to support my habit, and if I didn't have so many rodentia who would eat the bulbs in a heartbeat.

I love Allium in the garden and I love them in dried flower arrangements. I'm using some right this minute that I planted four years ago, harvested after they dried on the stalk, then sprayed with a copper metallic paint. They last indefinitely.

Allium Schubertii

One of my favorites is the delicate Allium schubertii, a heirloom variety that dates to 1896. The head is quite large and makes a dramatic statement, something like a Fourth of July sparkler.

Allium Sphaerocephalum

The small dark purple drumstick-shaped Allium sphaerocephalum is one that's supposed to naturalize, but it hasn't for me. I love it anyway.

Allium Christophii

Then there's Allium Christophii, commonly called Stars of Persia. Each star has a  bright green "eye".

Allium Hair

For those who love quirky, there are several unusual Allium, like "Hair"...

Allium come in white, rose, yellow, purple, blue, etc. Some like 'Globemaster' can reach up to four feet in height, and make a dramatic architectural statement.
Allium Globemaster

Costco sold Allium bulbs last fall, and when I saw them, I succumbed. Ever the optimist, I allowed hope to overcome experience and indulged in a couple of bags to see how they'd do, now that Roger has removed a few nasty trees and we have a bit more sun. Allium bloom in May and June, and the foliage is already starting to appear in a few places. Fingers crossed that if the bulbs have survived the rodentia, rabbits won't decide that the onion flavor makes them a perfect second course, after the mondo grass they've chewed to stumps.

If you'd like to see a variety of Allium cultivars, visit the VanEngelen, Inc. website. Van Engelen Catalog - Allium Section. You'll notice that they're sold out of most kinds, so if you see something you like, order early when the Fall catalog is released. Costco may have them again later this year, but you won't have a wide selection, nor will you be offered the ususual ones.

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