Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


By the fountain at Columbus Circle, New York City, a designer with a sense of humor plants decorative onions to reflect the globe sculpture across the street.

Giant allium bulbs are ready to plant now for next spring and summer bloom. In fall catalogs, they're usually bunched dismissively with "other bulbs" after the ever popular tulips and daffodils, an afterthought. But they have the advantage of being showy, deer and rodent resistant because of that oniony aroma, useful for container planting, and unlike daffodils and tulips, the seed heads continue to look great in the garden and in a vase long after the flower has passed. Above, seed heads in July add structure and style to a few plants of santolina.

Two or three large alliums
look like lollipops
sticking up from the
soil. Don't be stingy,
buy a dozen or more
to clump in one area
to look kinda natural.

Alliums have one
great disadvantage.
With most of the
ornamental onions
the foliage starts to
yellow or dies back
completely by the
time the flower
emerges. So place
your bulbs among
other leafy plants to
camouflage the die-
back, as shown here
in the herb garden
of the NYBG.

Although you wouldn't
know it from my im-
ages where the alliums
seem to be all purple,
they come in various
shades of lilac, pink,
white and even a true
blue and a yellow.
Be sure to check for
hardiness in your area
if you want them to last.

To the right, on The
High Line in late June
a display of astilbe in
the foreground, and
behind, foxtail lily
and drum stick allium
(A. sphaerocephalon).
Double click on this or
any image to get a
better view.

Try ornamental onions
in containers with other
plants, and the seed
heads will reward you
with their stately
presence. Full sun and
excellent drainage are
the two requirements.

I've had great success
forcing A. schubertii
on a sunny windowsill
in winter, and watching
the buds emerge and
unfold to look like giant
firecrackers. As the
foliage died back, I cut
some stems from my
boxwood shrub and
poked them gently into
the pot to provide a
complete cover-up.

Below are two arrangements with stuff I grew on my farm. The fresh arrangement includes drumstick and another small pink allium, globe thistle,
and several cone flowers, stems cut very short and stuck in wet floral foam.

The dried arrangement
is composed of stiff
necked garlic, and the
seed heads of Chinese
chives and Allium
stuck in
one of my favorite
vases. When you get
tired of the arrange-
ment, cook with the

To learn more about
growing and using
anything allium, crafts
and original recipes,
see my book, 'Garlic,
Onions & Other Alliums',
by Ellen Spector Platt,
Books, 2003.


Urban Gardens said...

Love allium, love this post. Your ornamental creation is beautiful.

Cheval Force Opp said...

What an inspiration! Too beautiful. I am going to try the pot idea! Cheval

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Urban Gardens, I once decorated a small Christmas tree with allium seed heads instead of glass balls and other more colorful bunches of dried flowers. I'm desolate that I took no photo.

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Cheval, You're warm enough for the Allium schubertii. Take a look in any good bulb catalog.

Ellen Spector Platt said...

forwarded from Saretta in CA:
I am allergic to onions and haven't had my hands on a garden plant for
15 years, but i loved the beautiful allium byte. Who knew that onions
could be ornamental?

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