Think you know your onions?
Many plants can be hit and miss but ornamental onions are among the most reliable spring-flowering bulbs, writes John Manley
IF YOU'RE a gardener who's also a cook you've really got to love the onion family. Red onions, Spanish onions, spring onions, garlic, chives, shallots, leeks - the Alliaceae family is unrivalled in terms of its contribution to the vegetable garden. But it's also a family that boasts one of the stars of the late spring garden, in the shape of alliums - or ornamental onions.
In the way you'll find the edible onion varieties easy and reliable to grow, so too is their ornamental cousin. Allium bulbs planted between now and January are as close to certain as you'll get to flower in eight or nine months time.
The appearance of the allium plant is best described as a long thin stem with a flower - most typically a pompom-shaped purple one - on top. However, there is an extensive range of variations on this theme, from nodding white clusters of A. Triquetrum at one end of the spectrum to the drumsticks of A. sphaerocephalon at the other.
Every decent garden centre should have at least a few varieties and even some discount stores will stock A. 'Purple Senstaion' bulbs at this time of year. Whatever bulbs you buy, get them planted ASAP at around two-and-a-half times their own depth in a reasonably fertile soil. They'll work in groups of odd numbers spaced at least six inches apart, though