Alliums flourish all through the temperate regions of the world. Although their native habitats vary from mountain slopes to middle East hot meadows and cooler woodlands of North America, all have common characteristics. They all have a family resemblance in root, leaf, flower and aroma. All of them are hardy bulbs. All have simple straight leaves, either flat or round. They all show a flowerhead that is a star-burst of small blooms that radiate from a central core.
Many of these interesting herbs have been part of world-wide cuisines for centuries, and these are the most familiar of the alliums. The majority of them thrive in light textured but organic soil that is well drained. They love full sun, but will also do quite well in partial shade.
The most familiar and most often grown allium is the common chive plant. Grow chives by scattering the seeds in a pot or in the garden, and when the small plants have filled out a bit, set them in small groups. Within a short time, you will have clumps of chives to cut for flavoring your dishes with a mild onion tang. These hardy perennial alliums are often the first green you will see in the garden, a sure sign of spring.
Chives enhance simple dishes like cottage cheese, potato salads, fritattas, omelettes or scrambled eggs. With their lush growth of spiky leaves and pretty lavender or rose-pink flowers, they look equally at home in a perennial bed, a rock garden or in a pot on the patio. Allow your chive clump to flower, since bees love them, and as the flowers die, cut the chives back to about 2 inches. Soon new tender growth will appear for a second harvest.
Garlic, the reeking rose, is another allium revered by chefs. Easy to grow by planting healthy cloves in rich soil in September or October, you can easily have your own fresh and delicious garlic for your own use. Garlic will grow in many areas, even those with cold and freezing winters. As snows recede in spring, the flat leafed foliage will again start to grow. Even the curly seed stalks, called scapes, are usable in cooking. Harvest your crop as the tops start to dry, and allow them to dry in a shady spot for a few days before storing them.
Shallots have always been linked with gourmet cuisine, but are just as easy to grow in the garden as any other allium or vegetable. Simply purchase a bag of organic sets, and push them singly into loose and fertile earth about 6 inches apart in early spring. Each shallot bulb will multiply into an aggregate of 6 to 10 new bulbs in a season. Harvest your shallots as the tops yellow and begin to dry out. Allow the small shallot bulbs to dry in a cool airy spot for a few days, and you will be able to store them until spring… unless you’ve eaten them all!
Ornamental alliums have become increasingly popular in recent years. With balls of flowers atop tall stems, these can be the stars of the perennial border. These ornamentals come in a wide range of heights and colors, from 8 inch dwarfs to 4 foot giants. The flowers can be rosy-purple, lavender blue, lilac or pink. Many of them make good cut flowers. With the various heights, there are varieties for the rock garden, for edgings, or the back of the perennial border.
With their unique shapes, range of heights and soft colors, flowering alliums add interest and distinction to any ornamental or herb garden.
Look for more landscaping and gardening tips, e-books, links and great articles from gardening expert, Nicki Goff, on her blog, Through Nana’s Garden Gate. Want to learn all about growing herbs? Subscribe to her free e-mail course on herb gardening.
Source: Nicki Goff