Failure. Tasty, but a failure.

Look at this photo. Tell me what you see. Do you see some tasty looking spring onions? Big, fat and bursting with flavour, deep red and beautiful? Do you? Is that what you see?

Well my friend, you are WRONG. I don’t mean to be rude, but you are looking at failure.

A couple of posts ago I eulogised the allium family, praising their versatility and beauty –providers not just of statuesque flowers, but also first rate herbs and vegetables. Unfortunately it appears that one particular member of said family let the praise go to their head and took their eye off the ball. You’re looking at the results above.

I planted a crop of red onion sets back in the spring and sat back waiting for rows of tennis ball-sized bulbs to push themselves up out of the soil. But then I made the mistake of prematurely congratulating them and they promptly stopped trying.

The bulbs were looking elegant in the raised bed and then I noticed the danger signs; little seed heads forming at the top of the tall green spikes. Instead of concentrating hard on growing the bulb at their base they had decided that was too much like hard work. No, being a vegetable was too good for my onions, it seems. They wanted to be flowers.

Such aspiration is bad news for the vegetable gardener. Once the flowers pop out the plant sees the home straight. Its job is done, it can die safe in the knowledge that it has produced seeds to spawn the next generation. And this in turn means that the bulb stops growing and starts slowly deteriorating.

So pretty flowers in the vegetable patch means no more onions. It’s not a disaster, because in their semi-grown state they do make rather grand spring onions, but it’s not quite the crop of daddy-sized onions I had planned.

There’s a moral in here somewhere. It seems that positive reinforcement and encouragement are not always the right approach. Some vegetables will let it go to their head. From now on when I talk to my plants in the greenhouse of an evening I shall be whispering veiled threats and waving bottles of industrial-strength weed killer. No more praise until they come up with the goods.

And then I shall pay them the greatest compliment I know. I shall eat them.

On the ipod while preaching tough love: Carly Simon / You’re so vain. Nuff said.

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Very talented.

Allow me to introduce the Attenboroughs. Three very gifted siblings, all in the same family. (Bear with me on this, it is a gardening blog entry…) There’s Richard, the Oscar-winning actor and director, David, the naturalist who surely needs no further introduction and then there’s John.

I don’t know much about John but by all accounts he’s a big cheese in his chosen world, the motor industry, and for him to be a comparative failure would really screw up my analogy, so who am I to argue?

Three super-talented individuals, all slightly different but all with fundamentally the same genes and the  same family name.

Which brings us nicely to the Allium family, the Attenboroughs of the plant world. (See! Got there in the end!)

All of these heroes have a starring role in my garden and allotment. The onions, leeks and shallots are my absolute bankers in the eating stakes: dead easy to grow, practically impervious to bugs and slugs, staggeringly low maintenance and incredibly long lasting. In my book that makes for perfection, and I’ve got healthy looking crops of white and red onions, Musselburgh leeks and Shallots (Longue de Bretagne) doing very nicely thank you very much.

And happily now that the daffodils and the tulips have faded away, my alliums are taking pride of place in the flower bed. Purple Sensation and Globe Master are thriving right now, to be followed by my favourite, Sphaerocephalum, in a month or two.

Lastly there’s the littel chives in the pic at the top. They’ve sat there happily for years,dying down in the winter and then flowering and pushing up fat chives all year long. I don’t use them for much – pretty much just chopping them up and sprinkling over a potato salad – but they’re still a great thing to have to hand.

Masters of the herb, vegetable and flower worlds. Could you find another family whose members have so effortlessless dominated in their chosen careers? Apart from the Attenboroughs, of course…

On the ipod while…ahem…watching Britain’s Got Talent: The Beautiful South / Prettiest Eyes. Not you, Boyle.