Sunday, 23 May 2010


A few years ago I visited the RHS garden at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire. One part that caught my eye was the small herb garden. Instead of the usual box hedge there was edging of chives in full flower and covered in bumblebees.

A Bumblebee enjoying the chives at Harlow Carr

You do have to be patient with chives. Sow the seeds early, in modules . These (below) were sown on 27th March from seeds collected from last years flowers. Protect them from the cold and within a few weeks they will germinate. Chives are monocots with one single seedling leaf.

Chive seedlings grown in modules

Once the roots have filled the modules , plant out the seedlings in a clump – no need to thin them out too much. They like a sunny place – mine line the path and take over from the snowdrops.

They are as tough as old boots and live quite happily in a few inches of soil on my green roof.

Growing happily next to the sedums on our green roof

They probably won’t flower in the first year – but you can still chop bits off to add to scrambled eggs or sprinkle on to new potatoes. In the second year they will flower and start to attract bees, butterflies and a variety of other beneficial insects. They don't seam to suffer from anything nasty. Although they can be attacked by onion fly if grown too close to onions.

There's no need to deadhead them immediately – wait until they have set seed and collect the seed heads and store in an envelope in a cool dry place. Once they have all finished flowering I tidy them up by trimming them down to about 10cm high, usually they will give a second flush of flowers. Come January/February the snowdrops will flower along the path instead.

To make sure you have herbs for the kitchen - wash and dry the trimmings, then chop them into small pieces. spread out a thin layer on a tray and freeze. Once frozen scoop them up into a freezer bag.

Chives are perennials and will give you herbs for the kitchen and flowers for the garden for years. Once they have become established you may want to divide them. Dig them up in March or October and divide the clumps. Put some bonemeal and compost in the soil to give them a feed and replant your chives.

If you saved seeds, sow them in March and start bulking up the clumps of chives you have.

On garden visits you'll often see Box hedging - it is so boring and does nothing for the bees. Why not grow a chive hedge instead? Yes it may take a while but, it will definitely be worth the wait.

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