The allium genus isn’t as clear-cut as other genera, as it not only includes the ornamental onion that we grow in gardens as an ornamental plant, but also onions, garlic, chives, leeks, and shallots.
Depending on how you classify the plants in the genus, there are between 260 and 979 different species, but we’ll be focusing on the ornamental alliums.
All alliums come from the amaryllis plant family, and hail from the Northern Hemisphere.
This doesn’t stop them, though, as they are grown across the world for their architectural value and color, and these plants have plenty of both.
Alliums At A Glance
The majority of alliums have spherical clusters of flowers, but they may also be oval-shaped, or even drumstick shaped, such as the Mohican allium.
There are many colors, forms, and sizes to choose from, but the most common colors are white, purple, pink, and blue.
Some ornamental alliums are edible, too.
Alliums also have the benefit of being easy to grow, introducing height and interest into borders, containers, and raised beds, while also being a great choice for unusual cut flowers.
Allium Name Origin
The genus name is Latin for garlic, and it’s interesting to note that some people believe it’s also related to the Greek word aleo, which means avoid, referring to the strong garlic smell!
Allium Flower Symbolism
As cut flowers, alliums signify wealth, patience, resilience, good luck, and prosperity.
While all alliums are edible, it’s worth mentioning that the ornamental varieties are bred for their looks, not their flavor, which may be disappointing!
If you’re after something which looks and tastes good, you could use chive flowers instead, which have the benefits of being highly ornamental but also quite tasty in a salad.
Alliums raised for food do very well in raised beds, but you do need to practice crop rotation, to stop disease from afflicting not just your alliums, but all sorts of other crops, too.
Every species within the genus produce organosulfides, which are responsible for the taste and smell of onions, but it’s worth noting that while we can eat them with no problem, they are toxic to pets such as dogs.
Aside from their ornamental and culinary use, they also make great companion plants for crops. The scent and taste of these plants helps to mask and deter the smell of tastier crops, keeping slugs and snails well away from them.
Allium Growing Conditions
Allium plants are hardy in USDA zones 3 through to 10, blooming in spring and summer.
They can reach between 15cm to 6 feet tall, depending on the variety.
As long as the soil drains well, and you can provide them with full sunlight, alliums will grow anywhere!
They only need an average amount of irrigation, and don’t require much attention from you in order to thrive.