ISSUE 18  |  The Handywoman

Field Guide: Chives

May 05, 2014 4:00 PM

BY Laura Boyle

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum: “Friendly Wanderer”

Are you craving an herb that looks like fairies planted it? How about one that tastes divine, repels bad insects, attracts bees, and grows in shade? Or one that offsets other flowers, comes back year after year, and responds well to neglect? Try chives.

This garden workhorse has been cultivated by humans for more than 5,000 years and it’s easy to see why. It grows in wild varieties in both the east and west. Our forefathers (and fore-doctors, chefs, and gardeners) valued this plant for its medicinal properties, its flavor in fish, egg, and soup dishes, and its ability to fight off maleficent insects, mildew, and fungal infections in the garden. The French use chives as a crucial component of the classic fines herbes–a blend of fresh herbs used to season egg dishes, sauces, and butter.


Above: Photograph by Marla Aufmuth for Gardenista. See more images of Chives in our Gardenista Gallery.


Above: Photograph courtesy of Kurtwood Farms. For more, see Outbuilding of the Week: A Cookhouse at Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island.

Cheat Sheet:

  • Perennial herb; hardy in zones 3-10.
  • Deer-resistant.
  • Bees find the purple flowers irresistible.


Above: A perennial in northern California, chives return in early spring to Michelle’s kitchen garden. Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

Keep It Alive:

  • Full to partial sun.
  • Once established, adapts to moist or dry conditions.
  • Does wonderfully outdoors or in containers; divide established plants once they re-appear in the spring.

herbs on a city windowsill

Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Plant in clumps throughout your vegetable or flower bed. You can distribute some in a windowsill planter, too, as chives grow well in partial shade and in containers.


Above: Chives thrive on London gardener Isabelle Palmer’s balcony. For more, see Isabelle Palmer’s London Balcony Garden. Photograph by Jonathan Gooch.

Chives establish quickest from a division, but you can also grow from seed. Harvest frequently, and if you notice a lackluster appearance, chop to about an inch from the base to give the plant a fresh start.

planting chives

Above: Find a pretty, clear bottle and steep the spiky purple flowers in vinegar. You’ll be left with a lavender-colored brew that tastes mildly of onions. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

In the spring, simply wait for them to come up, divide the plants to make more, and water as you please! For an extra dash of chive power, make like the Romanian gypsies of yore, and hang a bouquet of dried chives for protection. The purple flowers last very well dried, and are an excellent cut flower in vases or bouquets.

For more, see all our stories about Herbs. Planning your spring edible garden? See our posts about Carrots and Lettuce, and browse our Field Guide archives for more inspiration.