June 25, 2015

Allium Antics

Of the alliums in my vegetable garden––garlic, Egyptian onions, scallions, onions, chives––chives are the most conventionally ornamental. Their flowers are lovely puffs of pale violet, whose florets decorate salads beautifully.

Then there are the small explosions of scallion flowers, bristling with energy.

Form becomes much more complex when we get to the garlic. Stiff-necked garlic sends up scapes that curl into rounds....

....and interact rhythmically; they seem as though they are describing musical notes. The scapes will eventually flower at their ends, but I cut them off so all the plant's energy goes into making larger bulbs. They are good to eat; see, for instance, the recipe for Garlic Scape Pesto.

The prize for grand gestures, however, has to go to the Egyptian, or Walking, onions, which writhe and twist and curl into the strangest of shapes.

In early spring, they are the first greens, like fat chives. Then there are thicker leaves (or are they scapes?), some bound into a tight package....

....and they break free and squiggle about: up, down, across.

Each green undulating line ends in a white dome, that opens to small bulbs, called bulbils, some of which will sprout in turn; if they flop over onto the ground, new plants will grow, hence their other name of "Walking Onion". There's nothing regular in these meandering forms; they are delightfully wacky. I can't think of any other vegetable that takes quite so much liberty, and is so wildly varied, in its form; I love having them in the garden just for the visual pleasure that they give me.


  1. Great pictures, as usual.
    Garlic seems to be protecting my Jerusalem artichokes from deer, which are cropping-off all plants outside the garlic's protective perimeter.
    Next year it's garlic all around!

    1. Thanks.
      Up here, deer eat all sorts of things they're not supposed to like, like garlic. I have an electric fence around my garden.