The Backyard Larder

A place to explore and buy perennial vegetables and other food plants.

Ali’s Alliums

It’s been all change at my perennial vegetable allotment recently. I’ve been relocating plants to make room for two ‘sand beds’ for plants which haven’t been doing so well in the clay soil, but also to establish a bed with larger colonies of the perennial leeks and onions we most like to cook with. Here is the new bed….

New Allium bed

The first few plants at the near end of the bed are young Welsh onions. Behind those are Minogue onions (a leek!) Potato onions are planted in the next section and a perennial leek, St.Victor x Oerprei, occupies the far end of the bed.

The bed is about 3.6m long. The potato onions and the perennial leek cross are intended to fill a third of it each, and the Welsh onions and Minogue onions a sixth each. All the plants will clump up in time and I intend to harvest big onion bulbs/leek shanks/bunches of leaves as we need them (and replant offsets and bulbs in gaps as they appear to keep the colonies going). A bit of thinning out will be needed from time to time too. I’ve planted some creeping thyme in there as well, hoping it will spread and provide ground cover without detracting from the growth of the alliums.

Edible Allium bed

My other edible alliums are intermingled with other plants on the allotment. There are Babington leeks and wild leeks with the sea kale and sea beat, and tree onions and Elephant garlic in with the asparagus. The rest are mostly growing in the herb garden.

Chives

My collection

Counting up I have quite a number now. Not the huge collection I could have, as all alliums are edible and there are hundreds of species! (You can see over 700 pictures of Stephen Barstow’s allium collection here). However some are much better eating than others; I’ve been aiming to grow the tastiest, and most convenient for cooking and to have something oniony to harvest all year around. The following list just about covers the ones I have growing so far.

Perennial leekAllium ampeloprasum St.Victor x Oerprei – cross made by Aster Lane Edibles. Produces seeds.
Wild perennial leek Allium ampeloprasum – produces seeds.
Babington’s leekAllium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii – a sub-species of A. ampeloprasum which produces top-setting bulbils and sterile flowers. Pronounced garlic flavour.
Elephant garlicAllium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum – a sub-species of A. ampeloprasum with very large bulbs. Produces seeds.
True pearl onionAllium ampeloprasum var. sectivum – produces many small, white, mild, sweet onions in the ground. Often pickled or roasted.
Minogue onionAllium ampeloprasum var. sectivum ‘Minogue’? – Not absolutely sure of the species for this one but there are suggestions that it is a form of pearl onion. I have found it to be vigorous, growing and clumping up very quickly.
Welsh or Japanese bunching onionAllium fistulosum – produces clumps of hollow leaves, many varieties in existence, of various heights and some with red coloration. White conical flowers.
Tree, Egyptian or walking onionAllium × proliferum – a hybrid of Allium cepa, the common onion, and Allium fistulosum. Produces small (1-3cm) top-setting bulbs in multiple tiers and a medium-sized round bulb in the ground. Several varieties in existence.
ChivesAllium schoenoprasum – there are many varieties of various heights, shades of white, pink and purple flower colour and shades of green foliage colour.
Giant chivesAllium schoenoprasum sibiricum and Allium ledebourianum both sometimes go under the name of giant chives and I would like a large chive. Neither have achieved very large stature yet but may do so in time.
RakkyoAllium chinense – produces an evergreen clump of tubular leaves with small, rose pink flowers.
Garlic or Chinese chivesAllium tuberosum – clumps of flat leaves, garlic flavour, pretty white flowers in late summer or autumn.
French grey shallot, true shallot, griselle Allium oschaninii – smaller than a regular shallot (and a different species) these have a grey skin and pinkish flesh and said to have a particularly fine flavour – I haven’t yet tasted mine.
Three-cornered leek Allium triquetrum – leaves have a v-shape in cross-section. Leaves available in winter. Pretty white drooping flowers with green stripes. Can be invasive.
Daffodil garlicAllium neapolitanum – attractive star-like white flowers, garlic flavour.
Wild garlicAllium ursinum – broad leaves with a strong garlic smell but milder flavour. Leaves only available in spring. Pretty flowers. Invasive.
Everlasting onionAllium cepa perutile – Short, clump forming, usually non-flowering. Leaves available all year.
Golden garlicAllium moly – short variety with yellow flowers and a mild garlic flavour.

I’ll try to improve this list in time, with more details of the season of each type and whether they are drought or shade tolerant and so on. And more photographs!

6 comments on “Ali’s Alliums”

    I’m intrigued by the elephant garlic in with the asparagus. I want to prepare an asparagus bed this year and want to plant it with something else though that’s not traditionally recommended. I don’t mind not maximising the crop if I can harvest something else too. I have seen strawberries suggested and a combination of the 3 might work? How do you grow the two together?

    Reply

    Hi Hazel, I’ve only just moved it there so I’m not sure how it will work out yet. The asparagus is probably spaced with about 60cm between each plant in a single row down the middle of a 105cm wide bed and I’ve planted the Elephant garlic in 3 rows (I think) across the bed between the plants. I’m not sure about the strawberries – my perennial leeks seemed to rather swamped by them and seemed to be growing less vigorously than ‘free’ plants. I have some lambs lettuce in with the asparagus, the small plants are fine, but I will be pulling out bigger ones as mature plants have fine but very extensive moisture sapping root systems. Plant combinations are tricky aren’t they? I imagine plants that root in just one place but spread far and wide would be good – but which? We should discuss this further 🙂

    Reply

    Hmmm. Back to the drawing board then. It’s hard to think of something that’s not overly competitive but I don’t want to be constantly weeding the asparagus. Anything else low growing like nasturtiums tend to be fairly rampant. Will keep thinking!

    Reply

    Last year I planted New Zealand spinach at the back of my (2 year old) asparagus bed. The roots didn’t compete as they were a bout 18 inches away: the sprawling nature of the New Zealand spinach provided brilliant ground cover and reduced competition from weeds later in the year (it’s dies in frost so needs reseeding: I’m not sure yet if it will self seed or not). Strawberries planted at the front of the bed have yet to prove their worth: time will tell! I wish someone could provide a solution to asparagus beetle: having to net it as I had so much trouble with it last year…any ideas?

    Reply

    Hi Vicky,
    Good to hear that New Zealand spinach (Warrigal greens) was a good non-competing and edible ground cover. Yes I’m interested to see if my patch has self-seeded too.
    I haven’t experienced asparagus beetle yet (but then I haven’t experienced much asparagus either through various cultivation problems!) But if I pick up any tips I will pass them on.

    Reply

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