Can you imagine a world without onions? Onions, leeks and garlic are thought to be one of man’s oldest foods and now after 5,000 years of cultivation have become the most popular vegetables for flavouring food in almost every cuisine across the world. As Dilys Davies writes in her book, ‘Alliums; The Ornamental Onions’, “alliums have provided the necessary flavour that turns plain fare into gourmet living.”

But, enough about food! Here, we are looking at the more decorative members of the allium family. There are about 700 species of Allium mainly from dry and mountainous areas in the northern hemisphere. They are bulbous herbaceous perennials with basal leaves and small star or bell-shaped flowers in an umbel on a leafless stem.

Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ grows to about 90cm, with short basal leaves dying down by flowering time. Its flowers are small, vivid rosy-purple, in crowded spherical umbels, produced in May on into the summer. From Avon Bulbs we learn that the selection was made from Allium hollandicum by Mr J. Bijl in 1963 to produce this deep coloured strain. It gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

The fabulous colour can be used to very good effect throughout the garden in many different planting schemes. It looks great growing through grey foliage, lavender or santolina, for example. Or how about adding plants with brighter colours, perhaps lime green, red and orange, for a riotous association.

Our members certainly know their onions and have placed Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ at Number 9 in our Top 30.

HPS Kent Top 30. What’s it all about?