Edible Gardens: Allium borders

Last week we looked at the benefits of edible gardens which can turn your garden into a haven for wildlife, a place of beauty, and provide food for you and your family. To continue this theme of multipurpose gardens we will be looking at three members of the Allium genus which you can incorporate into your garden this year.

Allium is a genus of monocotyledonous flowering plants in the Amaryllidaceae family, which not only includes the well known onion (A. cepa), leeks (A. ampeloprasum), chives (A. schoenoprasum) and garlic (A. sativum) species, but also has some more unusual species which have fallen out of favour. One important feature of the Allium genus is the unique alliaceous (onion/garlic) taste, which is created by a series of chemicals derived from cysteine sulfoxides.

Allium schoenoprasum (Chives)

A. schoenoprasum - chives (Image source RHS)
A. schoenoprasum – chives (Image source RHS)

Allium schoenoprasum is a wonderful plant for bees, producing attractive purple flowers which are also great in salads along with the tender delicious, mild onion flavoured stems. A. schoenoprasum responds well to heavy harvesting which inhibits flowering but encourages young tender stems to be produced, while this is great for your kitchen we urge people to allow some to flower in order to attract bees. When planted under apple trees it has been reported that A. schoenoprasum reduces the incident of scab and companions well with beetroot, chamomile and carrots but will inhibit legume (beans and peas) growth.

Height & Spread: 0.3 metre (1 ft.) by 0.3 metre (1 ft.)
Hardy (UK): 5 (Fully hardy)
Sun: Full sun/part shade
Soil type: Loam, sand, clay
Soil conditions: Moist & well-drained
Soil pH: Acid, alkaline, neutral (pH range from 5.2 to 8.3)
Propagation: Propagate by seed, sowing in a cold frame in early spring then transplanting as soon as the plants are large enough to handle, or you can divide the plants at almost any time of the year.
Notes:  A. schoenoprasum is self-fertile producing hermaphrodite flowers (meaning they have both male and female organs) which are pollinated by flies, lepidoptera and bees

Allium tuberosum (Garlic chives)

Allium tuberosum - Garlic chives
A. tuberosum – Garlic chives

Allium tuberosum is known by many names, such as Garlic chives, Chinese chives or Oriental chives and can remain green up to temperatures below 4 – 5°c. Mild flavoured leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, although lengthy cooking will destroy the delicate flavour of this delectable little plant. Small bulbs are produced in clumps which are edible along with the delicate flowers in summer, which make for great garnishes on salads.

Height & Spread: 0.3 metre (1 ft.) by 0.3 metre (1 ft.)
Hardy (UK): 7 (Fully hardy)
Sun: Full sun
Soil type: Loam, sand, clay
Soil conditions: Dry/moist & well-drained
Soil pH: Acid, alkaline, neutral (pH range from 5.2 to 8.3)
Propagation: Seeds from A. tuberosum have a short period in which they are viable and should be planted in cold frames in spring within 1 year of harvesting the seed. Transfer once the plants are large enough to handle, you can place multiple plants per pot/planting area if you wish to create dense clumps.

Plants can be divided in early spring (but can be done anytime of the year).

Notes:  A. tuberosum produce hermaphrodite flowers which are mainly pollinated by bees and insects.

A.tuberosum can have a tendency to spread requiring some maintenance to ensure they remain in a chosen location.

Allium cepa var. viviparum (Tree onion/Egyptian walking onion)

Allium cepa var. viviparum
A. cepa var. viviparum

This wonderful and quirky member of the Allium genus goes by two main names,
Allium cepa proliferum and A. cepa var. viviparum (Tree onion/Egyptian walking onion). During the summer months you will see this wacky plant walking across your gardens as the top basal bulbs become too heavy, bending the stems to self plant into a new area!

A. cepa var. viviparum rarely produces seeds, instead it is propagated via the bulbils it produces at the apex of the stems or via division of the main underground bulb. Slugs are attracted to this plant and can destroy well established healthy plants. A. cepa var. viviparum is a bad companion plant for legumes and alfalfa but grows well with roses, chamomile and beetroot.

Height & Spread: 1 metre (4 ft.) by 0.3 metre
Hardy (UK): 5 (Fully hardy)
Sun: Full sun
Soil type: Loam, sand
Soil conditions: Moist & well-drained
Soil pH: Acid, alkaline, neutral (pH range from 4.5 to 8.3)
Propagation: Harvest the bubils in late summer, these can be stored over winter and planted in spring or re-planted immediately. You can also propagate via division of the main bulb after the leaves have died down in autumn.
Notes: A. cepa var. viviparum has hermaphrodite flowers which are pollinated by bees.

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