Giants break for the border

Ornamental onions
Ornamental onions
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Some members of the bulb family will happily grow and grow. David Overend shows that he knows his onions.

Size isn’t everything. Look at the little gems of spring – the snowdrops, aconites, dwarf iris, the windswept and wonderful anemones, crocus, grape hyacinths and gorgeous Glory of the Snow, aka Chionodoxa.

Each and everyone would have to stand on tip-toe to measure up to a one-foot ruler, but they know their place – and that’s at the front of a border, in a rockery or a site where there’s nothing to stop them from strutting their stuff before the big boys of late spring take the stage.

But there are some bulbs which aren’t afraid to take on the high and mighty. Many forms of daffodil and tulip can stand up for themselves on lengthy stems, and they are ideal for the middle and even the back of a border.

But when it really comes down to being able to hold your own, there are a handful which deserve to be recognised as giants of the bulb family. They can stand proud anywhere and reappear, year after year, often growing in number.

Alliums are the perfect example. True, there are quite a few small and medium-sized ornamental onions ideal for the garden, but when it comes to making a big impression, look no further than A albopilosum, which can easily reach three feet in height and produce large showy heads of silvery pink, star-shaped flowers.

Even taller is Allium giganteum, also known as Giant Onion, the tallest ornamental allium in common cultivation and one which can look down on lower life forms from the top of its four-and-a-half-foot stem.

And if you aren’t too keen on onions, consider Acidanthera, also known as Abyssinian gladiola. They’re tender, so best grow in big pots in full sun and lifted and stored before winter arrives. They produce stunning scented flowers at the top of metre-high stems.

Then, of course, there are common or garden gladiolus, whose flower spikes slowly unfurl to provide weeks of fantastic colour. These late-flowering blooms can stand four-feet tall but they, too, are tender and really need lifting and storing somewhere frost-free in winter.

Finally, the queen of the garden, the lily. Somewhere sunny but where their roots are cool and deep in rich soil is ideal. There, some forms of this fantastic family can grow to be five feet tall and perfume the air for weeks on end.

Who said that big couldn’t be beautiful?