By Alex Norelli—
Perhaps it was outright laziness, but at the end of last year’s dedicated season, it didn’t really seem all that unpardonable to leave a few surplus onions laying about unharvested. The worst that could happen is they’d be wasted (really only returned to the soil), and the best that could happen, well…that I didn’t know.
So I left them there with about as much thought as I’d give to pulling out a nondescript weed. After months of dealing with groundhogs and enjoying the harvest, my thirst for gardening felt quenched and I was looking forward to winter’s break. What I didn’t foresee is that an abnormally mild winter would not sunder them, and a precocious spring would give them more than a head start. Its not even June and I am met in my garden by the bulbous head-high minarets. Within their thin sheaths bundled clusters of tiny blooms press against the barrier, forcing its expansion and eventual rupture. Their ascending stems looked serpentine, as they kneeled in support of their nearly insupportable height.
The color of the conical unopened blooms once the sheath has ruptured is an icy blue, like that of a glacier in the form a golf ball, but with the opposite of dimples. About a year ago I visited Landcraft out on the North Fork of Long Island and they were growing Okra as an ornamental, its large-petaled Hibiscus-like flowers a soup for the eyes to drink in. Ever since then I’ve been trying to let plants show me their attributes, to approach them without any preconceived notions of what they are. Yes, maybe they are a vegetable, but that is not all they are. For me an onion was something in the ground, but now, after letting them grow an extra year, they are something reaching for the sky, inhabiting another atmosphere.
At the other end of my garden, the globe Allium were in heady bloom, though not long ago they looked similar to the onions. They too had the translucent minarets filled with eager buds. The resemblances are pretty scarce from there though…the allium have broad vaulting foliage radiating from the ascendant stalk, and their “onion” is a bulb usually planted about 6 inches underground. Apparently, if you go by Wikipedia’s estimates, there are somewhere around 750 varieties of allium, and Allium in Roman times was actually Garlic.
Maybe next year I will choose a place in my garden to plant my surplus onions, and turn the fruits of happenstance into the tools of expressive gardening. But then again there will be something I let go at the end of the season if for no other purpose than to see what it will do when I cede my will to its own, and allow it to show me something.