Onithogalums are not top of the list for most gardeners when they come to choose spring bulbs. I am sure this is partly because of their awkward botanical name ( I get nothing but blank stares when I tell people what this bulb is) but also because their flowers are (with one commercially available exception) in shades of white and green or grey. And then they either seem to be South African and not very reliably perennial in wet, western European climates or they are European and almost weeds. So they get a bad press. This is a bit tough because even the European species, such as O. umbellatum and O. nutans, are attractive in a quiet way and they don’t have to be weeds if you make sure you plant them where they can spread without being a nuisance.
Anyway I planted 100 Onithogalum magnum last autumn in various places. Most were planted in borders with the big alliums but some were planted in grass along with camassias and daffs. I had never grown this species before so was not really sure what to expect. All I knew was that it is from the Caucasus and grows to about 60cm high and should flower in May/June.
Growing plants is the best way to learn about them so I am glad to have got to know this attractive plant. I planted the bulbs about 10cm deep and 8-10cm apart. Some went into a lawn and others in the flowers beds with alliums. Ornithogalum magnum produces nondescript bright green foliage and it is starting to die back at flowering time so it is best to disguise this if possible. I have discovered that the flowers open later than camassias and at the same time as the later big alliums and they will be at their peak in June. The flower scapes have reached about 60cm high and I think they will get a bit taller as the flowers continue to open. The flowers are about 2.5cm across so not huge and as each bud opens the individual flower stems lengthen so they look, to my eyes at least, rather like a spindly white Scilla peruviana. It is supposed to prefer well drained soil and I have to say that those planted in the borders with alliums have not all grown and some look a bit miserable while those in grass have done really well. I am delighted with the look of them in the long grass and the only problem is that they have flowered so late. I will not be able to cut the grass till July but this would be fine in a wildflower meadow where you have perennials such as hardy geraniums where you would cut after seed has been set.
All-in-all I think this is a great plant that should be planted more widely. It is also a good cutflower and I may plant more specifically for that purpose. I also think it could be planted more widely in herbaceous borders under permanent plant and it could look good with aquilegias, lupins and iris. Thinking of what is in bloom here now I would like to see it with nepeta and I think there is scope for planting under short roses too.