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Columns

Learning to Grow: Ornamental alliums – different, easy and inexpensive

If you want something different, easy and inexpensive that will give your garden charm and distinction, think about planting ornamental alliums.

Alliums bloom from spring through fall. These amazing bulbs come in many colors and heights, and there is at least one that will help make any landscape come alive. They are great companion plants, and the larger ones form exclamation points in the garden.

One of the showiest and earliest to bloom is Allium aflatunense, Purple Sensation. It has many tiny violet purple florets that are tightly compressed to look like a baseball-sized flower on a 20- 30-inch stem. It’s a bit costly, but I found that just three make a major statement. There are several other large alliums that have a similar effect. Ambassador, Firmament, Giganteum, Gladiator, Globemaster and Mars are the ones to seek.

Allium oreophilum, blooming in late May, is the other extreme. It is a short, bunch-type allium in a beautiful rosy pink. I use it to accompany my peonies. The quarter-sized deep purplish pink flowers bloom in groups and are wonderful for the front of the border. Very inexpensive, they are 4 to 6 inches in height and have an elfin charm.

Allium caeruleum opens in mid-June. The color is flax blue, and the flowers are round and the size of a quarter on 12- to 18-inch stems. Plant more of these to make an impact, but they are very inexpensive.

Allium christophii is a superstar. It starts blooming in late May, but new ones keep opening for weeks, sometimes until the end of June. A beautiful amethyst color on a stem that ranges from 12 to 20 inches, it is striking and elegant at the same time.

For an allium that makes an impact long after bloom, choose Allium karataviense. With a pale lilac or silvery white flower (the cultivar Ivory Queen), this golf ball-sized allium has broad, thick leaves that are extremely decorative. It blooms in very late spring and is suitable for planters.

Drumstick allium (A. sphaerocephalon) starts blooming in mid-July. Burgundy in color, it blooms for weeks because all of them don't sprout at once. And if you dig them up you will see that they reproduce well. It is another very inexpensive allium.

For a fall-blooming allium, seek out Allium ramosum. Blooming in September, it ends the season with 18-inch tall, white flowers.

• Donna Mack is an University of Illinois Extension master gardener. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for information.

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