Camasssias are the perfect early summer successors to snowdrops and daffodils in a grassy, sunny part of the garden. Like most flowers they prefer moist, well-drained and fairly fertile soil but, as I’ve found, they’ll cope with partial shade and pretty poor ground. Even if they then don’t reach the expected height.

The gorgeous hyacinth-like white or blue flowering stems look best in grass, but will grow happily in a border, provided they’re surrounded by robust plants that support the Camassias when in flower.

Camassias come in a range of sizes, from 0.5m to as much as 1.5m. The lower-growing cultivars like Camassia quamash, with its wonderfully vibrant blue blooms, is one of my favourites. I find this shorter kind is much better as grass or neighbouring plants in a border give support and largely conceal any dying foliage after flowering.

But larger versions, reaching nearly 1.5m, such as Camassia leichtlinii caerulea or Camassia cusickii do work beautifully in a border and the tall starry blooms swaying in the breeze take some beating.

Camassias are such willing plants. They’ll tolerate most types of soil, clay or acidic and will, to my astonishment, even spread in pretty inimical conditions. One of my beds is partly shaded by a nearby elm and the questing roots of roadside shrubs seize whatever nutrients they can, but this doesn’t deter some enterprising clumps of white camassias. Blooms reach half the normal height, but still make a fine show.

Interestingly, you could even grow Camassia quamash as a food crop as the peoples of the Pacific North West around Vancouver Island did before colonisation. In The Lost Supper published last year, Canadian writer Taras Grescoe explains that the onion-like bulbs were the main source of carbohydrates for many of them. It’s been estimated that one family might harvest as many as 10,000 tubers in the course of a season.

Like many early farmers, the people visited and used cropping areas but did little cultivation. When cooked in a highly complex way, the tubers were sweet and variously described as tasting like figs or baked pears. But cooking was essential. One 19th Century Scots botanist, David Douglas, complained that raw Camassia tubers made him ‘blown out by strength of wind.’ Buy Camassia plants now or plant bulbs in the usual way in autumn.

Plant of the week

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, are a staple of the herb garden. The tubular leaves are the most commonly used part but the flowers are just as tasty. To add to a salad, pull apart each inflorescence to release the little individual flowers, there may be anything between 10 and 30. Do not use the papery bract at the back of the inflorescence or the central nub at the top of the stem which can be hard.

Once the flowers fade cut down part of each clump to about 4 cm above the soil to allow a new flush of leaves to develop. Once these are usable cut the rest of the clump.

Chive flowers produce copious nectar and are very popular with bees.