the un-purple onion: allium moly

allium-moly-in-gardenT HIS ONE SNUCK UPON ME. Allium moly, a foot-tall yellow ornamental onion, doesn’t have the baseball-or-bigger heads of some of its more dramatic purple cousins. But it has the rest beat in foliage (wide, beautifully pleated, blue-green leaves that don’t get nasty practically before bloom the way so many do) and durability. It has been gleaming for weeks here already, despite monsoon weather, its golden-yellow 2-inch-wide umbels screaming in the very nicest manner, calling the eye across the garden to please, come have a look.

In the way that groupings of crocus or the smallish species (botanical) tulips add to the earlier springtime show, A. moly is that kind of plant: a bit of punctuation, an exclamation here and there when a group is placed strategically at the feet of something else.

Of course, there was nothing strategic about my clump of A. moly and where it is placed. I suspect what I am growing is the cultivar ‘Jeannine,’ left over from a magazine shoot a few years ago, tucked in the area I use for cutting things and spare vegetables, nearly forgotten.

I’m going to keep this cluster of bulbs right where it is for future happy little June bouquets, and add some more elsewhere. More good news about A. moly: We’re not talking $1 or more a bulb, but more like 100 for $20, so I can splurge without too much guilt.

If you grew delphiniums (I don’t), this would be an astonishing partner; it coincides with lady’s mantle and roses; many irises; was already open with the herbaceous peonies a couple of weeks ago, and of course intersects with various other alliums. You know, some of those bigger purple guys.


    1. Margaret says:

      @Susan: Mine, too. Trying to stick to things that I will get a lot of and make a point somewhere. So far Narcissus ‘Hawera’ and Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior.’ And more A. moly. And…

  1. Janice says:

    Another one to add to the list! and i’m guessing its deerproof? I have a couple of alliums in our front yard (which is not deer-fenced) — Allium siculum being the most unusual looking

  2. Kali says:

    Just love those Moly Jeanine. Mine are growing at the entrance to my garden, just in front of the Meidland roses and the “black” ‘Dark Storm’ bearded iris’s. You sure do get a lot of bang for your buck with these. I had never thought of cutting them and bringing them in, but your little bouquets look lovely. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Islandgardener. I have lots of the big guys, and adore them and everything Allium in between, but this is a nice counterpoint (and better-priced, right?). See you soon again.

    Welcome also to Kali (great name; Kali’s image is here in the house in a few places, a great mother among Hindu goddesses). Sounds like I bribed you to confirm everything I said, thank you very much. :) I hope you will visit again, and yes, try cutting them. I cut the stems very short but they are about a foot long as I say, so can be bigger arrangements, and last for two weeks or more if you cut half-opened.

    @Janice: Yes, deerproof like its cousins in the genus. Thanks for mentioning, as I forgot. Oops!

    @Helen: I think that ‘Jeannine’ is a little showier than the species, so perhaps that accounts for the better behavior?

  4. Nemaslug says:

    Being predominantly a vegetable gardener who grows his onions from seed with almost obsessive attension to detail, it had never even occured to me that people would use onions in a border! Definately food for thought (if you pardon the pun).

  5. Dooryarder says:

    Say, must ask, why have you ruled-out delphiniums? Not even in your cutting garden? Mine are prospering in the rain and also holding up well inside.

  6. Sarah O says:

    I’ve been pulling allium moly out of our gardens for a few years now – it goes gangbusters wherever I put it, even in shade, and it tends to choke out the slower-growing perennials. I’ve started treating it as a “pretty weed” – something I’ll let grow in its proper place, but be ruthless with everywhere else.

    I use them as cut flowers in bouquets because they are great, plentiful fillers, but the smell! It’s awkward bringing someone a bouquet, watch them breath in the scent, and then recoil in surprise!

    1. Margaret says:

      @Sarah: I think you are in Nova Scotia, yes? Interesting to hear about the propensity of A. moly to take over. Most of my alliums and allium relative (like Nectaroscordum siculum) self-sow, but don’t get too bossy (since they start out as little grass-blade-sized things I just dislodge during spring cleanup if they are poorly placed/unwanted). One I find tenacious: garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). You have to rid yourself of it when very young seedling or else, here. Wants to really stay no matter what the gardener thinks about it. Grrr.

  7. Sarah O says:

    Hi Margaret, yes, I’m in NS. I’m sort of surprised how well Allium moly does in our cool-ish, moist summers and wet winters! It’s too labour intensive to pull out all the bulbs, so I normally just pull of the leaves and flower stalks when they start to crowd a perennial out.

    I don’t want to discourage anyone from planting Allium moly, though. I think it would look lovely planted in a shrub border. And I’d probably like it a lot more if it didn’t ruin my colour scheme! Looks terrible next to my bleeding hearts and has entirely the wrong growth habit to complement the lavender.

  8. Heather Chapman says:

    I just love this allium. Although I planted it years ago it seems to have arrived in all it’s glory this year. I thought it had died. And the deer don’t like alliums. They got my Lychnis viscaria this year that I bought from you at Trade Secrets last year. They’re beautiful, but so evil!! Heather

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Heather. Hate the deer. One walked in the other day here when I was mowing the far areas on the tractor (I had the lower gate open to get the tractor in, and this damn deer just followed me in I guess). Hasn’t happened since I got my fence years ago. I explained that he should please leave (then threw a large metal mixing bowl at him). Very mature behavior, no? Interesting your A. moly and mine both were glorious this year. Hmmm…what did we do right? See you soon again.

  9. Deirdre says:

    A. moly is what Odysseus used to prevent Circe from turning him into a swine in the Odyssey. I interplant it with things like asters to help prevent fungal diseases like powdery mildew. None of my asters have turned into swine either.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Deirdre: That is the most wonderful bit of horticultural trivia ever (and so timely with the word “swine” involved, right?). Thank you. Love your suggestions, thanks.

  10. Maggie says:

    I agree with you about the Allium tuberosum; they can be a pain to eradicate. Not quite so bad in garden soil, especially after a rain, as in the hard-packed garden paths, which seem to be a favorite place for them to self-sow. However, they are forgiven in summer when they produce their white, fragrant blossoms. Fragrant? I never realized it, until I planted them en masse beside a kitchen garden path–very unonion-like, until they are cut for a bouquet, when the odor from their foliage gives their familial ties away!

    Best thing I’ve found to get them out of the places they’ve wandered to, is a dandelion digger, as that will go straight down to their tenacious roots. Better yet is to prevent their proclivity for perpetuating their species, by clipping off the bloom-heads immediately after they flower. And I mean right away!

    The lovely, pinky-purpley clover-like (edible when young–try them in scrambled eggs, like the Shakers did) common chive, Allium schoenoprasum, blossoms get the same treatment too, when I’m attentive, or they can also become a pest. If I miss my date with them for their de-flowering, then I try to pull out each dying flower stalk
    individually. Labor intensive, but it prevents those hard bloom stalks from lingering on for a long time and getting in my way, whenever I’m harvesting chives for kitchen use. My 4-Square kitchen garden is a lovely sight though, when they bloom in spring, as I’ve tried to have a large clump or a row of chives in each of the perennial border beds. I’ve even planted a clump in a border because they are so pretty in bloom!

  11. Shellie says:

    Thanks to the pictures, I finally understand what the onion smelling beautiful yellow flowers are in the garden….my question, are the bulbs edible? do you treat them like garlic?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Shellie. Though it is always labeled “ornamental” in catalogs, I have read in a few places that it is edible…including on this website registered as a charity, I believe, in the UK. So I cannot vouch for what it tastes like nor even how accurate the information is, sorry; it just doesn’t seem to be touted any longer (if it ever was widely) for its edible qualities, not even on websites like that of The Herb Society here in the US that I can find. My various serious bulb references don’t discuss its edible qualities, either. I will keep digging as I find new leads, but nothing really substantial to share, sorry. Hope to see you again nonetheless soon.

  12. Shellie says:

    Hi Margaret

    Thank you for your help. I dug up a few bulbs and the smell is very distinctly garlic. I may cook a couple – that a least will kill any bugs, and venture a taste…..watch this space…..

  13. Sarah O says:

    @ Deirdre – one of my clematises has been suffering from wilt for the last few years, but only, I now realize, since I took away their allium moly! You can bet I’m going to be out there as soon as the rain clears up and sticking some back in around its base. I’m very interested to see if it helps.

  14. SJ says:


    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, SJ. I have not read that except in folksy old books, but will tell you that I (decades ago) tried the so-called “mole plant” or “gopher spurge” (a euphorbia) and that was no remedy. Moles are insectivores (meaning they are looking for grubs and worms, not trying to eat plant roots or bulbs, which they inadvertently dislodge while tunneling in the search of prey). Voles and mice (who will eat plants) wouldn’t like any allium (nor do deer and rabbits and so on) just as they won’t eat daffodils, but whether having alliums will keep them out of the lawn…wow, I think you’d have to have a field of alliums.

      What about trying to get rid of the grubs they are searching for by inoculating the soil/turf with nematodes or Milky Spore? What about trapping the moles in mousetraps to reduce the population? Here’s what I did/do and some links down low in the post to other resources for more information.

  15. Jared says:

    I love Allium moly! I read about it a few years ago and ordered some bulbs that turned out not to be Allium moly. A minor setback. This year I ordered them again from another place, planted them, and got the sweetest reward this spring. Everything about this little guy is sweet: the flowers, the foliage, and the bit of folklore I’ve read, i.e., that they bring good luck and prosperity. I’ll definitely have to cut a bunch for the house next spring.

  16. Brenda Houston says:

    Love the site. It is great! Great information. I love the quote about never stop wanting more plants, that is exactly how I feel. I love to introduce a new flower to my yard. Brenda

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