Herbs and alliums are two of my favourite types of plants. I love to grow them, eat some of them (in large quantities), admire their amazing flowers and watch the bees and pollinators feast on them too.
I’m currently in the throes of planting lots of alliums – mostly onion and shallot sets – but I’m also looking to boost my wildlife-friendly flower borders with a few ornamental and “dual purpose” herbs, legumes, and alliums too. Here are some of my favourites that you might want to grow in your flower garden, veg patch or allotment:
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) might seem like an obvious choice, but they really are an all-purpose allium. These little beauties can be harvested throughout the year for extra onion-flavoured zing in your culinary endeavours. Cheap to buy, easy to grow and fantastic for pollinators, they can feature in container gardens, veg patches, herb gardens and flower borders alike. There are an abundance of varieties available, from mild to strong flavoured, compact 6inch plants or broader and taller 2ft specimens (A. var. sibiricum), as well as a selection of (edible) chive flowers, with white (withs silvery-green foliage), pink and mauve varieties readily available. Try garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) for a garlicky twist to the traditional light onion flavour.
Another obvious choice, but no garden or veg patch should be with some rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Whether you’ve got acres of space or just a patio to play with, you can enjoy this unique, fragrant herb and your local pollinators will thrive on the abundance of delicate, blue flowers. Here at the Smallest Smallholding I’m growing Mrs Jessop’s Upright, a tall and narrow variety that fits perfectly in between the flowers in my long borders, but if you’ve got slopes or need ground cover try Prostratus, a cascading variety.
3. Welsh Onions
I first saw welsh onions (Allium fistulosum) being grown in my mum’s garden amongst the verbena bonariensis, and it’s flowers were like a magnet for the bees. I’ve since found a few pots of welsh onions in the poorly department of my local garden centre, and they’re now going in my flower borders. Welsh onions can be eaten from bottom to top, and produce fluffy globular pale green/yellow flowers in summer. They’re great for compact gardens, growing tall from smaller clusters.
Scent, flavour, texture, colour, lavender has it all. A staple in many English country gardens, allotments and veg patches, lavender might be a common feature, but its place in our growing spaces is well deserved. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators will flock to any variety (though English is preferred to French), and there’s a plant for every growing space from compact Hidcote through to the long, tall spires of Lavandula angustifolia. Bake with it, smell it, look at it… just enjoy it.
5. Peas (and Beans… legumes in general)
I’m a bit of a pea-growing novice, and have little experience. I’m growing some this year, because these vertical-growing legumes are not only a welcome culinary treat, but the sheer number of varieties of peas and beans available means that there’s not only a variety for every taste, but also a huge array of flowers that are so beneficial to pollinators. Peas and beans look great in any vegetable garden but can also add height, texture and colour to ornamental borders too. And with nitrogen fixing qualities, they’re fab for crop rotation and healthy soil.