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Effortless And Eye-catching

Plant these bulbs now for a colorful garden next year by Anne Halpin

Fall is the time to plant bulbs that reward us with beautiful flowers next spring and summer. Nurseries and garden centers offer the familiar daffodils, narcissus, crocuses, tulips and lilies now. These classic garden flowers are favorites, but there are many less well-known but equally beautiful bulbous flowers you can plant now for effortless, eye-catching color in next year’s landscape.

One group that deserves to be better known is the alliums. This clan includes onions and garlic, but also a host of lovely ornamentals that produce large, spherical flowers that bloom atop tall, straight stems in summer. Surprisingly, all of these disparate alliums belong to the same plant family as lilies, those classics of bridal bouquets and flower gardens. Who would have thought they’d be related? The clue lies in their leaves—all these plants have strap-shaped leaves that grow in a clump from the base of the plant.

Alliums are easy to grow, dramatic and sculptural in the garden, and they’re deer-proof, too. Their flowers consist of star-shaped florets on long tubes that are gathered into round, or in some cases oval, clusters—they look like balls or balloons floating among the other plants in the garden when they bloom. They are eye-catching in the middle ground of a bed or border, where they stand between taller background plants and shorter front-of-the-garden flowers. Add some to your landscape for a touch of drama…or whimsy. There are lots of beautiful flowering alliums. Here are a few to try for yourself.

The popular variety Globemaster is widely available and sports big violet globes of densely packed star-shaped florets on stems almost 3 feet tall. The flowers last for almost a month. Allium christophii, called star of Persia, has a delicate, lacy look. Its large, ball-shaped flowers 10 to 12 inches in diameter (the biggest of any of the garden alliums) are made up of star-shaped florets with narrow petals, purplish pink with a metallic sheen, on thin stems that create airy, graceful balls. Star of Persia grows 2 to 3 feet high and thrives in well-drained soil. They make good cut flowers. Allium caeruleum, or blue allium, has bright sky blue, star-shaped flowers. Such true blue coloring is uncommon in the plant world. This species is more petite than many of the other flower garden alliums, growing a foot or so high. Their compact size makes them easy to mix among other flowers near the front of a bed or border. If a flight of fancy would add new life to your flower garden, plant Allium schubertii. This one looks like fireworks on a stem; its florets spray out on pale, rosy pink filaments from a central point. For fragrance, seek out the variety Gladiator, whose softball-size globes of lavender-blue are delightfully scented. For a cool touch of white, try Mount Everest, whose flowers will remind you of snowballs in summer.

You can find some alliums available as blooming-size plants in local nurseries and garden centers in spring, ahead of when they normally bloom in the garden. For a wider selection, seek out online sources where you can buy bulbs to plant in fall, when most of the garden work is winding down. Two good sources are McClure & Zimmerman ( and White Flower Farm (