How to Combine Alliums with Perennials
Garden designers love using alliums and it’s easy to see why. These unusual and highly attractive flower globes grab your eyes with their bold shapes and sparkly florets. They bloom for weeks in late spring and early summer, and the seed heads continue to add interest long after the flowers are gone. Alliums are reliably perennial and not troubled by deer or rodents. Pollinators love them, too!
Observing how garden designers combine alliums with perennials can be a great source of inspiration for your own garden. Read on to see examples of some creative and unexpected pairings. (Note: this article features alliums that are grown from fall-planted bulbs rather than the herbaceous types. You can learn about the differences in this article: Types of Alliums.)
Combining Alliums with Other Perennials
Alliums have a big presence, yet they also play well with others. In fact, alliums with long, slender stems look best when other plants are growing beneath them. You’ll also find that once alliums finish blooming, they quickly away. If there are no other plants nearby to fill in the gaps, you will be left with… gaps!
Here’s another good reason to have your alliums emerging from a bed of foliage. Alliums that grow from fall-planted bulbs, including Purple Sensation and most of the big-headed varieties, begin to lose their leaves while the flowers are still in bloom. While you can remove these yellowing leaves, it’s much easier to simply hide them with the foliage of other perennials.
Below is a list of perennials that are good companions for alliums. Since alliums bloom early in the season, even perennials that eventually get very tall make suitable partners.
- Upright Sedum
- Ornamental grasses
- Lady’s Mantle
- Nepeta (catmint)
- Stachys (lamb’s ears)
- Geranium (cranesbill)
- Aquilegia (columbine)
- Dianthus (carnation)
- Hemerocallis (daylily)
Here are some other combinations of alliums and perennials to inspire you:
Plan for Contrasting Heights
While some alliums can reach 4 or even 5 feet tall, others top out at just 6 inches. This is why it’s important to match the type of allium with the planting location.
Locate Purple Sensation, Pinball Wizard, and other mid-height types (18-30″) in the middle, and the tallest ones such as Ambassador and Forelock at the back. Or turn that approach on its head and use tall alliums as “see through” plants as shown in the example below.
Get Creative and Experiment with Color and Form
The wonderful combination above was photographed at Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire, England. Waves of ornamental grass (Nassella tenuissima) are paired with a 3-foot tall, big-headed allium, possibly Gladiator. Bold and surprising in the best sort of way, it accentuates the texture and form of these two very different plants. Can you imagine a place in your garden where something like this could work?
Let the Seed Heads Linger
Once your alliums finish blooming, don’t be too quick to remove the spent flowers. Let the show continue! Most types develop decorative seed heads that will persist for weeks or even months. How long they last depends on your climate. With good air circulation and relatively dry weather, they can last well into August. Alliums christophii and schubertii have particularly long-lasting and attractive seed heads.
If you don’t want to leave the seed heads in the garden, consider drying them to enjoy indoors. You can learn how to do this here: Another Reason to Love Ornamental Alliums.
Planning for Different Bloom Times
Our Bloom Time Planning Guide for Alliums shows the approximate bloom time sequence for 14 different types of alliums. You can use it to plan specific plant pairings and orchestrate a succession of blooms from May into early July.
You can see a good example of bloom time sequencing in one of the photos above, where the fading flowers of Purple Sensation are giving way to the frosty white flowers of allium nigrum.
Alliums are available for shipping and planting from September-November, click HERE to see our full selection. Learn more about growing alliums in these articles on our website: All About Alliums, Types of Alliums and Alliums for Every Garden. In a collaboration with garden designer Nick McCullough, we also offer designed two allium-focused planting plans that are available free HERE and HERE.