As scrumptiously edible as they are beautiful, alliums are a delightful – and flavorful – addition to spring gardens. These exotic members of the onion family, including chives, leeks, garlic and shallots, are identified by their spicy, onion scent. Attractive spring bloomers, alliums have distinctive pink, purple or white pom pom-like flowers that rise on long, thin stems from low-growing green foliage. Tolerant of cold weather, their long maturation period makes early spring the best time to plant alliums. Some allium varieties can take as many as 4 months to reach edible maturity when grown from seed. Purchasing allium plants from your local garden center and adding them to your garden in early spring can cut growing time nearly in half, allowing you to start enjoying these savory plants by early summer.
The bulb, root, leaves and flowers of most allium plants are edible, although only the bulbs or leaves are usually consumed, depending on species. For example, the thin, grassy leaves of the chive (allium) plant are snipped onto salads, added to foods as a spice or used as a garnish. The tiny, pea-sized bulbs of this plant, while edible, are considered too small to be useful in food preparation. The leek, however, has large, flat leaves and a large, layered bulb, both of which are used to flavor soups and stews.
Chives are one of the most versatile allium plants. Their compact size makes chives a popular container plant and nice addition to windowsill herb gardens. Chives are sun lovers, so locate your chive pot in a sunny windowsill or kitchen counter. Many cooks keep a pot of chives handy in the kitchen or on the back porch, snipping off a handful of stems as needed. Hardy and cold tolerant, chives grow as a perennial in most Midwestern states, overwintering in the garden to sprout new growth in the spring.