Garlic is part of the allium genus. There are many varieties of garlic, the one most commonly bought and eaten is allium sativum.

What Are Alliums?

Alliums are what is usually thought of as the onion family. They used to be classified as part of the Lilliaceae (Lily) family but are today usually classified as Alliaceae.

A distinguishing characteristic of alliums is their bulbous nature. This is evident in some of the most well-known edibile alliums:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Shallots

Some oniony herbs such as chives are also alliums. Garlic chives (also called “Chinese chives”) are a particular favourite of mine.

There are a huge number of alliums. Depending on how you count there are anything fom 500 to 1500 different species, usually found in the Northern hemisphere in temperate locations.

Although the edible alliums are most well known to non-gardeners, many alliums are also grown for their decorative properties. These include the massive Allum giganteum (Giant Allium), the blue Allium caeruleum (Azure Allium) and the Allium hollandicum (Purple Sensation). The Purple Sensation was awarded the Award of Gardening Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Even “normal” garlic produces flowers or bubils that many consider attractive. However leaving the plant to flower profusely is likely to result in a crop of smaller bulbs for the kitchen.