GARDENING: All about onions

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FOR those of you who don’t want bog-standard spring or winter-planted onions, there are many members of the allium family that are more unusual and decorative, even perennial.

I’ve grown all of these in containers successfully and chives are an excellent edging plant.

Shimonita onions are multi-purpose and spectacular looking – at the beginning of the season, use them as spring onions, or leave them to mature as leeks.

An onion with many facets, that’s Italian variety Lilia. It’s variously sold as a spring/bunching/maincrop variety with a pungent flavour. It has hollow green leaves and torpedo-shaped purple/red onions that can be harvested in summer as a spring onion or as late as November as a maincrop.

Alternatively, try it as a perennial bunching onion, only harvesting part of the plant.

It has a pungent flavour and is recommended as a salad onion with its green leaves and shiny, intense red inner core. When fully mature, it has defined red and white inner rings.

Sow from late winter to summer at three-weekly intervals, or for an early spring crop, sow seeds in autumn and overwinter. Sow thinly 6mm deep in drills 15cm apart. No thinning is required. Harvesting can usually start six to eight weeks after sowing for use as spring onions.

Perennial Welsh bunching onion Ciboule Red is fully winter hardy.

This heritage variety forms dense clumps of slender hollow stems that can be used as a substitute to chives.

The slender elongated bulbs are similar to spring onions with a strong flavour. I’m planting a row next to my carrots with a pot of mint to try and ward off carrot root fly.

You can direct sow, but I started mine off indoors in modules before being hardened off outside.

New to me this year are shallots – Griselle, planted last autumn and coming on nicely. If they do well enough, I might ditch the Senshyu onions next year.

Lastly, chives and garlic chives. They are so unfussy, they’re everywhere in my garden, even in pure sand in a crack in the paving where the kids’ sandpit used to 
be!

This is one herb/veg that always gets grown in the main garden. It’s a perfect foil for other plants and its globular pinky-purple flowers are lovely in themselves (and 
edible).

It grows easily from seed, but it’s probably easier to buy a small pot from the garden centre and divide it yourself.

I get two crops a year – one of fresh new growth in May and another in August, but discard any old flower stems (they’re tough) and any leaves with rust on them.

They don’t dry, so I chop them and pack them into ice cube trays or small boxes to freeze, them store them loose in a freezer bag, to use throughout winter.