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Alliums give gardens colour for three seasons

Ever dream of having a garden that's colourful spring through fall? Planting alliums is one way to realize that dream, according to bulb experts.

Ever dream of having a garden that's colourful spring through fall?

Planting alliums is one way to realize that dream, according to bulb experts. There are dozens of different varieties of alliums, pronounced "al-ee-um," each with its own special bloom time. By planting several different types, you enjoy six to eight weeks of colour, bridging the season from late spring to mid-summer.

Also known as ornamental onions, alliums are strong towering plants with sturdy stems topped by balls of colour in appealing shades of purple, periwinkle, lavender, lilac, maroon, white or silver.

Alliums add a spectacular architectural dimension to the garden, according to Brent and Becky's Bulbs in southeastern Virginia. They also make wonderful cut and dried flowers.

Technically, the allium's round flower is called an umbel, which is an orb of florets facing outward, according to Hans Langeveld of Longfield-Gardens in a press release. The more florets there are per orb, the more dense and velvety its appearance, according to bulb experts. When the florets are more loosely spaced, the effect is open and airy.

"The largest alliums have flowers that measure more than 25 centimetres across and stand about one metre high or more," says Langeveld of, an online flower bulb and bare-root perennial retailer.

"Large or small, it's hard not to smile when you see a garden full of flowers that look like purple lollipops."

Allium bulbs need to be planted at the same time as daffodils and tulips - in the fall.

They are available at garden centres and Home Depot, as well as specialty bulb businesses.

The bulbs thrive in zones 3 to 9 (Natural Resources Canada lists the Greater Victoria area as zone 8), depending on the variety, and do well in most any soil as long as it is well drained. Full sun is preferred but partial shade is OK.

Planted where they will thrive, alliums act like other cold-hardy perennials, returning each year to bloom again.

"Another benefit: alliums' garlicky taste doesn't appeal to deer, woodchucks, squirrels, voles and rabbits. For gardeners who have animal pests, this is welcome news," says Langeveld.

Alliums add the colour, height, structure and movement that can turn ordinary gardens into something special. Pure white Mt. Everest is a showoff in a shade garden. Big blowsy pale lavender alliums like A. christophii shimmer when combined with warm yellows and oranges or dark reddish shades. Purple Sensation harmonizes beautifully with whites, blues and purples, and the deep maroon flowers of A. atropurpureum are stunning with heucheras that have lime green or dark red foliage.

Chameleon is an allium favoured at Brent and Becky's Bulbs (brentandbeckys

"It's a perfect name for this variable plant whose clusters of flowers change colour from dark rose to white with rose veins," says Becky Heath.

"It's terrific for rock gardens or fronts of dry borders."

Once alliums bloom, they give you a few more dramatic moments in the garden. After bloom, as their petals fall away, alliums set seed. As the seed heads dry, the dried golden brown seed heads stand tall amidst lush late season flowers, holding on through late summer into fall, sometimes into winter.

"The seed heads are every bit as cool as the flowers," says Langeveld.

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