Our Blog


11th May 2017 IN Advice


The Gravel Garden simply wouldn’t be the same without alliums. A fabulous bulb for anyone creating their own drought-resistant garden. They are dramatic, decorative and best of all, easy to grow. They can add so much to the look of a border with their spherical heads. Just make sure you can give them a free-draining, light soil with plenty of sunshine, and you will be guaranteed success.

Part of the onion family, alliums have showy, interesting heads that are made up of tens and tens of tiny, individual star-like flowers. They start to open in late spring, once the tulips have finished and provide bright, bold colour and structure all summer. The blooms vary hugely in size. Some are the size of a ping pong ball whilst others can be as large as a football.

Popular Types

We grow many alliums here, many planted in drifts throughout the Gravel Garden. Here are just a few of our most popular varieties:

  • A. cristophiiHuge, globular heads made up of nearly one hundred metallic, lilac-purple stars on delicate spoke-like stems.
  • A. atropurpureumThe darkest of all the ornamental onions. Dense blackish-purple flowers stand at nearly three feet high.
  • A. hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ Probably the best know allium. Standing three feet tall with rich, mauve flowers. The Chelsea Flower Show wouldn’t be the same without it.
  • A. karatavienseShorter growing with two broad, curved, fleshy leaves cradling a pinky-beige flower nearly the size of a tennis ball.
  • A. sphaerocephalonThin stalks carry wine-red and plum shaped flowers usually a little later than the other types.


Alliums look particularly good in amongst Mediterranean plants, for example, lavender, phlomis, artemisia and sage. However, one of my personal favourite combinations are alliums planted through clumps of the airy ornamental grass Stipa tenuissima.

When planting bulbs, common advice is to group several together to provide impact. This is true for the smaller alliums, although you will find it is not necessary with the larger flowering forms. Planting in drifts will create a more natural feel and help add another layer of depth to the border.

 Alliums offer more than just their colour too. By the end of the summer, the nectar-rich flowers start to fade and dry. The strong, stiff stems can then stand proudly well into autumn. Do however, prepare yourself for the potential of many seedlings appearing the following spring. I choose to cut them off at the base and bring them indoors to keep as dried flowers. I have had several in a large vase in my living room for almost three years now.

We regularly stock over 20 different alliums on our Nursery. We pot them in the autumn so they can root over winter and be ready for sale in early spring. Read about the advantages of planting bulbs from pots in spring, in a blog posted back in January.  


Jacob Pettersson

Plantarea Manager


Be The First To Post

Leave a Comment

You may also be interested in...

Structure in the winter garden
Structure in the winter garden

Using seedheads to create winter interest is something we've always done at the Gardens, and it can benefit wildlife too. These plants create some beautifully frosty sillhouettes and are well worth leaving in place over winter for their architectural value.

12th January 2021 IN Advice
The Lenten rose,  Helleborus x hybridus
The Lenten rose, Helleborus x hybridus

In 2009, Beth wrote an article for the Guardian newspaper about her delight in seeing the Lenten rose, Helleborus x hybridus, for the first time.

23rd December 2020 IN Advice
Top plants for spring 2019
Top plants for spring 2019

As spring plants fly out of the nursery (we grow 90% of the plants we sell), we focus on our champions for spring 2019.

4th April 2019 IN Advice
50 days without rain and counting
50 days without rain and counting

How the Gravel Garden is surviving without rain (it is never irrigated) and the plants that can help prepare your garden against future drought.

20th July 2018 IN Advice