Friday, September 9, 2011

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Circle Onion

Circle onion in full bloom
The circle onion in full bloom
It’s always a bit sad in my garden this time of year. There are sedums and grasses blooming, but the coneflowers are a little long in the tooth and almost everything else looks a bit tired. One big exception is a plant at the end of my front sidewalk – allium senescens ssp. glaucum, better known as the circle onion.

It’s a funny name for a cool little plant. And it has a number of other nicknames as well. Among them are German garlic, Blue Siberian onion, cowlick onion, corkscrew ornamental onion, spiral onion, curly chives and circle chives.

Circle onion flowers
 A closeup of the circle onion's flower
One look at the plant, especially in the spring, explains why. Its blue-gray leaves form a spiral, almost a cowlick of sorts. Even this late in the season, when the plant explodes into a bouquet of purple-pink lollipops, the foliage is still a bit twisted and curly.

Like all alliums, or ornamental onions, it likes a well drained site with plenty of sun. The plant tops out at 10 inches tall when in bloom and spreads about 6-10 inches wide. It’s deer- and rabbit-resistant, a big plus.

You can easily divide circle onion. In fact, you need to divide it to keep the plant vigorous once it gets large. I’m going to have to divide some clumps this fall that have been in the ground for about three years. Just make sure you keep the “bulbs” intact.

Circle onion
Circle onion's foliage

What separates this plant from its cousins is that the foliage is nice before and after it blooms. Many alliums that flower in the early summer go dormant after they bloom. In other words, the leaves die. That can leave a bit of a hole in your border unless you put it near other plants that will grow and cover the spot.

Circle onion, though, keeps on giving the whole season long. So if you want some gorgeous color in the late summer and some fantastic foliage, consider putting some circle onion on your plate.

By Karen Geisler

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