Unusual Allium Varieties

Members of the onion family can be a great addition to your garden. Why not give these exotic varieties a try?

by Dani Yokhna
Egyptian onion
Courtesy Territorial Seeds
The Egyptian onion, or walking onion, produces a flower rather than scapes and “walks” across the garden.

Alliums—like onions, leeks and garlic—are easy to grow and tasty to eat. Some of these lesser-known varieties could be a real hit in your garden, if you’re looking for something more exotic than your standard yellow onion or hardneck garlic.

Potato Onion
Also known as the multiplier onion, this allium is planted in the fall and overwinters in the garden. Each bulb you plant will mature into a clump of several bulbs, much like a shallot (though potato onions are larger and easier to peel). They can be harvested for fresh use throughout the season or for storage in late summer. By replanting a few bulbs every year, you’ll always have these wonderful perennial onions.

Egyptian Onion
Also called the tree onion, this allium wins the prize for the most unusual onion. Rather than producing a flower on the top of their scape like other onions, they form a cluster of tiny bulblets. If you don’t harvest and replant the bulblets yourself, the stem will simply topple over, and they’ll take root and grow all on their own—essentially causing the crop to “walk” across the garden over the course of a few seasons. These onions are very winter hardy and quite tasty, and again, by replanting a few bulbs each season, you’ll always have them around when you need them.

Welch Onion
Also called the Japanese bunching onion, this allium variety does not make typical round-shaped onion bulbs but rather a bunch of scallion-like shoots. They’re often harvested in the spring but can be picked throughout the growing season. It’s another perennial onion that’s easy to both propagate and grow.

Ornamental Allium Varieties
These bulbs and foliage smell and taste onion-y just like their edible cousins, but these beautiful alliums are grown for their good looks, not their sharp flavor. They’re deer- and rodent-resistant—good news for gardeners who are unable to grow tulips and crocuses because of critters.

Planted each autumn, ornamental alliums are striking and stay in bloom for several weeks in late spring. Most are hardy between USDA hardiness zones 4 and 8, making them suited to much of the U.S. Flower colors include white, yellow, lavender, pink, purple and fuchsia. With flower stalks reaching anywhere from a few inches to 3 feet tall and flower clusters sized between a marble and a volleyball, there’s an ornamental allium suitable for any garden size and style. Here are some you can’t miss:

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  • Globemaster: Hundreds of light-purple, star-shaped flowers clustered into a softball-sized flower perched atop a 3-foot-tall stalk
  • Ambassador: Deep-purple, tightly formed flowers growing 4 inches across and standing 2 to 3 feet tall
  • Allium karataviens: A golf-ball-sized flower of a beautiful pale lilac with gorgeous smooth leaves dressed with reddish margins
  • Jeannine: One-foot-tall stems with brilliant-yellow, 2-inch flower clusters; late blooming
  • Allium neapolitanum: Bright-white, sweet-smelling flowers measuring 1 inch or so across, borne on foot-tall stems

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