All of the species of the genus ’Allium’ have edible leaves and flowers (although not all are equally tasty) if not bulbs. The most famous alliums, onions, provide the base ingredients of cuisines all over the world. The many health benefits of garlic are also well documented (some say it was garlic that gave slaves the unexplicable power to build the pyramids!). With their strong smell, alliums are effective companion plants that repel and distract pests (particularly when planted with the Solanaceae family – tomatoes, aubergine etc.). Used ornamentally, they have a simple beauty and planted in a border, or in pots, their sculptural form can give your garden design a real je ne sais quoi…
Top allium tips
- Alliums can range from 20cm to 2m tall stems with attractive oval, spherical, or globular umbels of flowers on top.
- Depending on your planting scheme, you can select from a range of colours including yellow, cream, lavendar, blue and purple.
- Their sculptural forms are stunning when planted in drifts (plant in groups of odd-numbers – 3, 5 or 7) and contrasted against other foliage or flower shapes.
- Some are quite surreal and can make real feature plants. Try the serpent garlic A. sativum ophioscorodon for it’s entertaining loop-the-loop growth habit as well as edible bulbs (which can be harvested from the flowering stalks as well as from the ground).
- If not harvesting the bulbs for eating, treat as a perennial. Every few years lift, divide and revitalise clumps. Generally they are big feeders, so replant with a good dose of compost.
- In the case of garlic, select plump healthy cloves (which will hopefully therefore form fat bulbs) and plant in a sunny spot, pointed end up in a compost rich soil, before or on the shortest day (so they have time to develop some roots / shoot before the true cold sets in).
- Keep free from weed competition and feed regularly with a liquid fertiliser such as worm tea.
- Your garlic will be ready to harvest about 8 months later, in summer on the longest day, or when the top growth starts to change colour and keel over.
- As they do in nature, a successful plant will adapt to grow well in your garden environment over the years.
- Save healthy fat cloves for replanting later in the year. As with other veggie crops, prevent pest and disease build up in the soil by rotating the planting area annually.