A number of plants, both flowers and vegetables, are included in the genus allium.
Prominent among the flowers is the giant allium, which can reach 3 to 5 feet tall with its fluffy purple ball made of small flowers joined into this large umbrel. The foliage lies low to the ground and is insignificant. The bulbs are large, and after the first season of blossoming, the bulb will divide itself and produce more stems.
The Neapolitan allium, in contrast, is a delicate, white-flowered plant which only grows about a foot tall.
Alliums sometimes are known as flowering onions.
More familiar to the gardener are those that are grown as vegetables, with the bulb as the edible part. Included here are onions of many kinds, garlic and shallots. Leeks (allium ampeloprosum) are grown for their thick stems and chives for their leaves.
Leeks require a long growing season and need to be planted indoors in early spring. They germinate slowly. The new shoots resemble grass, so observe them carefully when you first plant them outside or you may mistake them for weeds.
The little seedlings will do best in a trench about 4 inches deep, and then as they grow, the soil can be pulled up around them to blanch the stems.
Being shallow-rooted, leeks need plentiful watering throughout the summer. This is not an easy crop to grow, but worth the trouble when you look at the price in the grocery store.
Leek and potato soup is delicious.
On the other hand, chives are easy to grow; in fact, they are hard to kill if you have too many or have grown them in the wrong place.
This perennial can be onion- or garlic-flavored.
The foliage is hollow and grass-like and, if not cut back, the plant will produce attractive pink or purple flowers. One plant will soon form large clumps that are easy to divide.
When you need their flavor in soup, stew, salad or mixed into cottage cheese, simply snip a few inches of foliage with scissors. The plant will quickly recover and grow even faster.
A clump dug up in fall will spend the winter happily on a sunny window sill and go back into the garden in the spring.
Garlic is another allium that is a blessing in the kitchen.
I planted the cloves from two bulbs from the grocery store in mid-September and now have two rows of grassy shoots about 7 inches high.
They will survive the winter with the help of a little mulch, and the bulbs will continue to develop underground.
In the spring, top growth will resume and I will have a plentiful supply of garlic in the fall.
Onions are another allium that are easy to grow, and can be pulled and used in different stages of growth.
Seeds are fussy to grow; the better choice for starting onions is to buy sets in the spring. These small and weedy-looking plants were grown from seed and then pulled and stored until spring. The sets will grow fairly fast, and can be thinned after a few weeks and used as "green" or "spring" onions.
Shallots are botanically a separate variety of allium, but sometimes one can see bunches of mid-sized onions in the produce department that are sized between a full-grown onion and a green salad onion and are sold as shallots.
And then there are Egyptian onions, Welsh onions, Walking onions, Multiplier onions and many more - all testifying to the popularity of allium in the cuisine of many cultures.
And of course, there is wild onion and garlic that are the last weeds to surface in the fall and the first to appear in the spring. Let's not go there.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.
Contact her at: