What’s growing in May & June: Alliums!

You don’t like dancing with crazy Ted, he’s always jumping on your head? But, oooooooo, you love onions? Join the club. Now is the time the popsicle-like flowers of Alliums come into their own.

I captured the display above on a small street in the Junction. All the neighbours seem to have shared in the bounty. The large ones are probably Allium ‘Globemaster’, the smaller, shorter ones are likely A. aflatunense. Carpenter bees were going crazy in both when I happened by.

My friend S. is a great lover of alliums. When she moved from a sunny Mississauga home to a shady, ravine-side house in the Beach a couple of years ago, I think the thing she missed most were her alliums.

I need more alliums myself. I am the proud co-habitor with a set of Allium schubertii. Sarah and I are always at odds at whether this is pronounced Schubert-ee (Sarah) or Schubert-ee-eye (me). [Mea culpa: It isn’t “schubertii,” it’s “cristophii!” I’m still right about the ee-eye, though. H.] Naturally, older sister mode kicks in to make me sure I am right.

However you say it, mine this year are demonstrating the effects of self-seeding abandon. This variety makes large, loose heads of metallic-mauve flowers, like living geodesic domes. Quite the garden statement.

Another allium in my garden is the wacky Egyptian Onion or Walking Onion, A. cepa. “Walking,” because it makes onion sets at the top of its stems, which when ripe tip the stem over like perpetual drinking birds to plant themselves all over the garden.

In the meantime, they put on a wild show of eccentric blooms and stems. Here, they are doing their interpretation of a deer with a Carmen Miranda set of antlers. I find them endlessly fascinating.

Let us not forget the lowly chive, A. schoenoprasum. They’re usually mauve, but Sarah purchased a specimen of this lovely pink variety on a visit to Patrick Lima’s Larkwhistle garden on the Bruce Peninsula a few years ago. It successfully thrives under less than ideal conditions under Norway maples in her front garden.

Myself, I have a growing colony of A. tuberosum, or garlic chive. The pretty white umbels of fragrant flowers appear in late summer or early fall.

Like all chives, all parts of the plant are edible. Their leaves and flowers make lovely additions to or garnishes for salads.

All hail the onion, in its many varieties!


  1. Onions! onions ha ha ha. Onions! onions rah rah rah!

    I don’t think I’ll be able to look at an allium ever again without having this song going through my head.

    I guess I somehow forgot that alliums were in fact onions.

    Also I’m noticing the word “onion” itself is sort of funny-looking. (how I you mean, funny-looking, in what way? Oh, I don’t know, just sor tof funny-looking.)When you type it a few times, it just sort of jumps all over the place with all those vowels.

    Well thankfully my onions are jumping all over the place and I’ll soon have some to dig up and spread around to your onion deprived spot by your fence.

  2. I just commented on your iris post, but I had to say how happy I am to read your post about alliums. We too absolutely love them in the garden. Right now, the huge architectural forms of the large purple alliums echo the smaller, less rigid form of the chives (which I love for their reliability and functionality) and both make a perfect foil for the elegant siberian irises growing in between. In the hot days at the end of summer the garlic chives magically appear (they’ve migrated everwhere in our garden) and their starry white heads are a welcome antidote to the hot colours of our late summer garden. This year we’ve added garlic to our collection of alliums and can’t wait to harvest them and avoid for a little while the perverse necessity of purchasing garlic grown in China. We echo your hail to the onion.

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