Many hundreds of Allium species exist, but only a modest few have made a name for themselves as garden plants. This text describes the most significant ones. The genus, Allium also includes important plants used for human consumption such as onions, leeks, shallots and the familiar cooking herb, chives. The natural distribution of these species is limited to the temperate regions of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The ornamental onions distinguish themselves by their great diversity in color, inflorescence and flowering height. Many species bloom in early summer - just after the spring-flowering period and just before the exuberant full bloom of summer. When slightly bruised, the bulbs, leaves and stems of these plants give off a definite onion scent. Although this has been considered a problem when using ornamental onions as cut flowers, the odour quickly disperses after the stems have been immersed in water for a few moments. Naturally, only the tall and middle-tall species are used as cut flowers. Several species require a bit of special treatment, but will remain beautiful for a long time, even as dried flowers. All species can be used in the border. Certain small species are just perfect for a rock garden, and several lend themselves to naturalizing.
The name Allium (sometimes spelled as ’alium’) comes from the ancient Romans and means ’onion’ or ’leek’. This name was taken over by Linnaeus for the entire genus.
This combination of these species is very special indeed. The colours contrast beautifully and, of course, the varieties flower simultaneously for weeks on end.