In Praise of Allium

IMG_1867I planted Globemaster alliums three or four years ago. They’re the largest and most majestic plant from the ornamental side of the large allium family which includes chives, onions, shallots, leeks, and hundreds of wild and cultivated species. (Not surprisingly, allium is the Latin word for garlic.) In full bloom, Globemasters form 6 to 8-inch perfectly rounded heads which look like purple scepters reigning over the late spring garden. This year was a particularly good one for alliums — with the chives running rampant through the vegetable garden — and the Globemasters coming into their glory in late May and holding their color and shape right up until now.

IMG_1869This week, though, I noticed what I thought at first were patches of rust on the densely packed florets that form the globes. But when I took a closer look, I realized that the Globemasters were covered with tiny orange butterflies about the size of a thumbnail. Though the butterflies could be found throughout the garden, fluttering around anything in bloom, they seemed particularly drawn to the purple lure — and perhaps oniony aroma — of the allium family. The bronze-colored butterflies, which I think are some variety of Folded-winged Skippers, are the perfect complement for the lavenders and purples of the alliums.

Here’s a poem on the subject:

In Praise of Allium
by Denise Levertov
No one celebrates the allium.
The way each purposeful stem
ends in a globe, a domed umbel,
makes people think,
‘Drumsticks,’ and that’s that.
Besides, it’s related to the onion.
Is that any reason
for disregard? The flowers – look –
are bouquets of miniature florets,
each with six elfin pointed petals
and some narrower ones my eyes
aren’t sharp enough to count,
and three stamens about the size
of a long eyelash.
Every root
sends up a sheaf of sturdy
ridged stems, bounty
to fill your embrace. The bees
care for the allium, if you don’t ­–
hear them now, doing their research,
humming the arias
of a honey opera, Allium it’s called,
gold fur voluptuously
brushing that dreamy mauve.

For a related post, including a chive recipe, click here://

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6 Responses to In Praise of Allium

  1. annette shear says:

    I’ve just forwarded this “issue” to three friends: one is head of the butterfly collection at the American Museum of Natural History , another is chief gardener in the Central Park Conservancy and the last is a foodie and terrace gardener… I think they will all enjoy this particular writing from your garden! (I’m going to try your chicken recipe, I love goat cheese and I have a lovely “goat lady” at Union Square with very good cheese!

    • Liza says:

      Thanks so much, Annette. I’d love to know if your friends have had a similar experience with butterflies and allium. XxxLiza

  2. Beata M. Newman Scarpulla says:

    Dear Liza,

    This has been a fountain of information for me. I had no idea about the history of the alium family. Your blogs are so informative.

    And your chicken recipe with goat cheese sounds out of this world.


    • Liza says:

      I actually made the chicken stuffed with chèvre this week — with tarragon, marjoram, thyme, parsley, and, of course, chives, all fresh from the garden. It was wonderful! Xxx.

  3. Margaret says:

    Dear Liza:
    your garden and your precise words reveal the garden ‘s beauty to me.
    I loved the Denise Levertov poem, also. Hope to see you soon.

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