Alliums in your garden

Allium is a large and happy family - there are about 700 assorted aunts and cousins, all of whom are related by blood or marriage to the humble onion. Most are pretty hardy and there are varieties to suit almost every growing condition and the caprice of every gardener.

Allium flowers vary in size from cabbage (A. schubertii) to ping-pong ball (A. caeruleum). Height ranges from waist-high (A. giganetum) to little ankle-biting plants (A. forrestii). Colors range from bright yellow to many shades of mauve and purple to pure blue, and white.

Apart from A. schonoprasum (chives) most alliums are planted in the fall. They enjoy sun but hate wet feet in winter. Don't plant the large-flowered varieties too close together as they need room for those giant flower heads. Small-flowered ones can be closer together and left to form a clump.

Allium leaves look rather floppy and take time to die down in the fall, but planted among hostas, rhododendrons, other shrubs, or with ornamental grasses they are not too noticeable.

You can grow them from seed - your own, if you wish - for those big seed heads are loaded with little black seeds in the fall.